The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force – Review

I first came across the British Pacific Fleet when I read Peter C Smith’s Task Force 57, published in 2001. I was working in Ulaanbaatar at the time and was looking for anything that referred to the sea to read. I had become interested in some of the British formations, Task Force 57 and Force H for example. I have picked up various works on the British Pacific Fleet since.

I came across The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force by Davis Hobbs in 2011. Seaforth Publishing, a Pen & Sword imprint have released the book in paperback on 12 April 2017, ISBN 9781526702838 for £13.50.

The British Pacific Fleet (BPF) has a connection to Australia and Sydney and other Australian bases in particular as its logistical base was Australia and much of the training of aircraft was performed at Schofields, Nowra and Jervis Bay.

The BPF was born from the British desire to re-exercise some power in eastern waters. The Royal Navy (RN) had been expelled from the Pacific by the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and raids by the IJN on the then Ceylon ensured the RN presence was restricted to the edge of the Indian Ocean, essentially protecting the supply lines from Australia to the Middle East.

Churchill suggested to Roosevelt in September 1944 that a British fleet should become involved in the operations in the main theatre against Japan. The BPF was formed in November 1944 under Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser and its main base was established at Sydney.

While in the Indian Ocean the precursor to the BPF had been conducting operational training and equipping its units which included a large increase in aircraft carriers and changes to the operation of the Fleet Air Arm. The fleet also equipped with an expanded floating supply organisation with about 60 vessels being included in the RN “Fleet Train”.

The BPF eventually was built with vessels from the Royal Navy, Royal Australian Navy, Royal New Zealand Navy and Royal Canadian Navy, as well as blue funnel line vessels requisitioned.

The Allied commanders in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Chester Nimitz had differing opinions on where the fleet shout be deployed. MacArthur wanted it in and around the Philippines and Borneo area whilst Nimitz wanted it covering the invasion of Okinawa and the advance on Japan. Nimitz was backed by London and the politicians and so the BPF covered the invasion of Okinawa.

While Smith’s book covers Task Force 57 at a fairly high level, Hobbs goes into detail. He covers:

  • Planning and training
  • Strikes against Sumatran oil refineries
  • Australia and logistical support
  • Operations Iceberg I and II
  • Replenishment in Leyte Gulf
  • Operation Inmate
  • Repairs in Australia and improved logistical support
  • Submarine and mine warfare
  • Strikes against the Japanese mainland
  • Victory
  • Repatriation, trooping and war-brides
  • Peacetime fleet and retrospective

There are a number of appendices covering, among other topics:

  • the composition of the fleet in January 1945, August 1945 and January 1948
  • Air stations and air yards
  • Commanding and flag officers
  • Aircraft

This is a very complete look at the BPF amply illustrated throughout – one of my favourites being HMS Vengeance in Sydney Harbour with the bridge as a back drop, no Opera House, no tall buildings, just a lot of bush around the foreshores.

If you are at all interested in the days when Britain had more than two aircraft carriers at sea, the British Pacific Fleet by Hobbs tells a tale of politics, organisation, operations and dogged persistence. That Hobbs’s writing style is easy to read is added bonus.

Freeing the Baltic 1918-1920 – review

In 1964 Geoffrey Bennett wrote a book called Cowan’s War. The book centered on the Battles to help free Russia from the Bolsheviks. I remember reading it when I was a teenager as the concept of Britain being involved in another little war immediately after World War One was interesting, and I had just finished reading a book about a motor boat fighting the Bolsheviks (the name of the book eluding me at the moment).

When the opportunity came to review Bennett’s Freeing the Baltic – 1918-1920 it was a great excuse to reread the history and recapture (briefly) the feelings I had when I was a teenager.

Pen & Sword Maritime have released this edition in 2017, ISBN 9781473893078. A preface by Bennett’s son, Rodney Bennett has been added along with an addendum.

The main text of the book covers the complexity of this war. The Entente Cordiale were in the process of negotiating the Versailles Treaty with the Central Powers at the same time as the Russian Revolution was in full swing with the White Russians trying to resist the Bolsheviks (Red Russians). The Entente would have preferred independant Baltic States (as indeed would the states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania). The Germans were still active in the region until the Entente coould direct support there.

Bennett wrote about the Royal Navy admiral, Cowan, who was tasked with supporting the White Russians, ejecting the Germans, supporting the Baltic States in their quest for independence while dealing with his own government, crewmen who had had enough of war and wanted to return to home ports along with mines and all with some light cruisers and destroyers.

It is a boy’s own story and I enjoyed reading it again as a somewhat older boy. That the Baltic States were subjugated by the Soviets or the White Russians were defeated by the Bolsheviks is not because of Cowan’s inabilities but rather an inevitability of the creation of the USSR.

The cover of the book carries a quote from Leon Trotsky, “[The British] ships must be sunk, come what may”. This was the environment Cowan found himself in. The Admiralty assigned 238 ships to the area including 23 light cruisers, 85 destroyers and 1 aircraft carrier with 55 aircraft. The French asl allocated 26 vessels, the Italians 2 and the U.S.A. 14. Over the conflict 17 British vessels were lost to mines, weatrher and the enemy. Sixty-one vessels were damaged and 37 aircraft were lost.

In the area the Soviets had 30 vessels approximately including two battleships.

Bennett’s son added a preface and an addendum to the book containing information uncovered later. Perhaps the most ineresting was Admiral Walter Cowan’s career in World War Two where he served in the Western Dessert with the Indian 18th King Edward’s Own Cavalry, mounted on bren-gun carriers. Captured by the Italians, then later part of a prisoner swap he returned to the dessert. When the Second World War was over he was invited to Indian to become the honourary colonel of the 18th King Edward’s Own, surely the first naval officer to be so honoured.

I loved this book when I was a teenager and I love it now and really appreciate the excuse to read it a second time. The additions by Bennett’s son enhance the book rather than detracting at all from his father’s work. Thoroughly recommended.

Bennett also wrote Battle of the River Plate; Coronel and the Falklands; Naval Battles of World War Two; The Battle of Trafalgar; Naval Battles of the First World War; and the Battle of Jutland.

An Increase in the Tank Park

I was out of Manila this weekend and discovered a model shop which had a supply of 1/72 scale modern tanks. There were also a few packets of 1/72 scale plastic figures as well but it was the tanks I was interested in.

I picked up a Challenger and a Merkava for the collection. I will get around to doing an unboxing of these later but a quick look has me salivating with the detail.

They go along with the M1 Abrams and the T-72 collection along with the lone T-80 and ZTZ-99.

What I would like to add to round out the modern collection would be a Leopard 2 and an AMX-56 LeClerc.

Now I just need to time to start to sit down and buid some of these (or buy some more early World War 2 tanks).

USAAF Spitfires in World War 2

In one of those usual oddities of Google and the Internet, I was hunting for some information the other day on Soviet World War 2 aircraft camouflage and, as you do at a time like that, came across a reference to the USAAF flying Spitfires in World War 2. “Tally ho”, I thought,  “here’s an oddity to look further into”.

Look into it I did.

Well, not only did the USAAF flying some Spitfires but the US Navy also managed one squadron. There were four groups in the USAAF flying Spitfires for a time, initially out of England and then in the Mediterranean. They were:

United States Army Air Forces

4th Fighter Group

  • 334th Fighter Squadron
  • 335th Fighter Squadron
  • 336th Fighter Squadron

7th Photographic Reconnaissance Group

  • 13th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron
  • 14th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron

31st Fighter Group

  • 2d Fighter Squadron
  • 4th Fighter Squadron
  • 5th Fighter Squadron

52d Fighter Group

  • 307th Fighter Squadron
  • 308th Fighter Squadron
  • 309th Fighter Squadron

United States Navy

Supermarine_Spitfire_Mk.Vc_USAAFI’ll freely admit that this was news to me. I had always associated the USAAF pursuit (fighter) groups with P-40s, P-47s, P-38s and P-51s, never with the Spitfire.

The 4th Fighter Group was fairly typical, It was constituted and activated in 1942, Activation was in England and the core of the Fighter Group were formers members of the RAF Eagle Squadrons. They commenced operations with Spitfires but moved across to P-47s in March of 1943 and P-51s in April 1944. 

Of course, the US Army Air Force was not the only non-Commonwealth country operating Spitfires in World War 2. I mentioned 1942 above. In 1942 Spitfires were being sent to the Soviet Union to assist that war effort. I can see I will need to add some to my Soviet mid World War 2 army. The picture below is of a line of Spitfires, camouflaged and marked with a red star ready for export to the Soviet Union.

USSR_Vb_1942

French-Indian War – Battle Two at the Gun Bar

It started back on August 3rd, 2013, with the Battle of St Roll No Ones. That was the battle that I rolled so many ones and coupled with the following battle, had us wondering about dice Feng Shui as when we played the third game, Anthony was on the other side of the table. By now, two wins in Rank and File and from what was the poor Feng Shui side of the table now has me wondering if the Feng Shui is period specific.

2013-09-14 15.50.36We met for an engagement at Dresden’s Ford.

The French (that’d be moi) had stolen a march on the British and advanced to the village on the ford. Indeed, the skill of the French engineers and the efforts of the troops ensured the road across the ford and the cross roads were suitably protected with earthworks. The was designed to ensure the the British left a holding force in from of the earthworks and attacked, most likely, on their right flank

The French were ready for an attack on either flank but had le Blue regiment stationed there waiting for the British to come. They came.

The view of the battle from the British side can be seen in General Gage it is with some trepidation … 

2013-09-14 18.36.26 I fear the British powder was wet as they barely caused a French casualty all day. They advance, the French shot, the British routed. Overall it was a simple battle. Those foolhardy enough to advance on the earthworks were repulsed with heavy casualties.

Those attempting to work the flanks were repulsed with heavy casualties as well. The French Cause was aided somewhat by the British inability to roll a 6 (or a 5 or a 4 come to think of it when those were needed).

The photo above is from the Montgolfier brothers recent invention and show the final position of most of the forces.

Lessons and Comments

When attacking hard cover, I think the attackers probably need around 2.5 to 1 odds.

We need to have a look at the interaction between cavalry and squares – namely, how many elements in the square can fire on the cavalry and when it comes time to melee, how many cavalry elements and how many infantry elements get to fight?

Lastly, an about face. 1/4 move to about face and 3/4 move or  … ?

French-Indian War – Battle One at the Gun Bar

The French Battery and and battalion
The French Battery and and battalion

For a change from the Rapid Fire, Anthony suggested I read Rank and File on the bus up to the Gun Bar ((with one small change of letters this could become the Gin Bar)). I’m not sure that it was because he was bored with Rapid Fire but rather than he had received some new toys in the post and wanted to play with them.

The first part of the day was trying a burger from the barbecue as the search for the perfect burger continues (see the next post).

We then retired to the table where some terrain was laid out and Anthony’s French-Indian War figures were ready for battle.

Rules of Engagement were simple. Two roughly equal forces face off against each other across a valley. Let loose the dogs etc etc.

I deployed my cavalry and a battalion of infantry to product my right flank, positioned the battery with another battalion to protect it on the hill and split the remaining four battalions. Two were to hold my left flank and the remaining two to act as a strike-force up the centre. The centre was to be the main strike force as I could rapidly reinforce with another two battalions and support with the artillery.

The main strike force ready to advance and the right flank covered by the dragoons and another battalion
The main strike force ready to advance and the right flank covered by the dragoons and another battalion

It was a plan.

This was out first battle using Rank and File rules

The battle commenced. My left flank advanced and formed line waiting for an expected onslaught from the British. It came and my two battalions performed admirably, not only holding the flank but forcing the British back.

Meanwhile my artillery played on the British battalions and caused them some consternation.

On my right, my dragoons advanced on the river in company with a battalion of infantry to attempt to prevent the British crossing at that point.

My dragoons however ended up being roughly handled by the British and left the field.

Towards the end of the battle before things went pear-shaped on my right. Soon after this both the French and British right flanks crumbled. We called time at this point as both armies would have withdrawn from the field to lick their wounds. We really enjoyed the Rank and File rules and by the end of the battle we were playing bound after bound quite comfortably.

The advance up the road was initially successfully but ultimately failed
The advance up the road was initially successfully but ultimately failed

Armies of the Seven Years War

The postman brought another book. This time it was Digby Smith’s Armies of the Seven Years War: Commanders, Equipment, Uniforms and Strategies of the ‘First World War’, ISBN 978-075245-923-3.

I have been looking forward to this one as well. Smith’s Uniform works are quite good and I have an interested in the Seven Years War that remains unsatisfied still – both at a naval level and a battle level.

In fact, I have been pondering this war for the start of my own Imagi-Nations of that period, sort of like the Grand Duchy of Stollen. If not the Seven Years War period, then the Great Northern War or the War of Spanish Succession.

I digress.

Smith’s work is supposed to supply information on the senior commanders, uniforms, weapons, equipment, artillery, strategy, tactics and combat involvement (military and naval) of the forces engaged from 1756 to 1763.

States covered include Austria, Bavaria, Britain, Brunswick, Denmark, Hanover, Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel, Holland, France, the Palatinate, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Wurttemberg and the Holy Roman Empire. He has attempted to cover the uniforms of the protagonists and given that some of them had large forces, I am not sure that he will be able to manage that in a work this size. I am ready to be pleasantly surprised however.

There are over 150 illustrations and maps in this work. I will write more about this when I have had a chance to have a long look.

Triumph of Nations

9781849089289 I am falling for the quality of Field of Glory Napoleonic. Te rules seem OK, and I guess will give me as much pleasure as Shako does. With some clever basing I can use the figures for either game as well.

The other day, I was trawling through Amazon as I have a want to do from time to time and noticed that it was almost release date for Triumph of Nations so I ordered it. It appeared on my desk today.

I quite like this too – well presented lists covering the later period of the Napoleonic Wars, including some of the smaller nations.

Now all I need to do is to keep focussed on everything else and not start buying 15mm Napoleonic figures – no …. resist!!!!!

More Upcoming Pieces

I did another review of the search results for Thomo’s Hole again and some interesting ones turned up this time too. So, apart from the 19th Century naval engagements mentioned in a previous post, the search results for the last two days have revealed searches on the following terms:

Term Searches Results
HMS Devastation 2 1
American Civil War 1 12
Battle of Sluys 1 0
empire seraph 1 0
hms seraph 1 0
kazakhstan 1 11
Naval battle during the Siege of Fort Zeelandia 1 0
norwegian cuisine 1 6
pre dreadnoughts 1 4
tugboats 1 0

Now, I can say that the search on Kazakhstan was me – but all the rest are from readers. So, things people were looking for but which are missing – more naval items I see such as the Battle of Sluys (was that you Doyle?), empire and HMS Seraph (there is no ship called empire Seraph that I know of but two HMSs Seraph, one an S-class submarine and the other an S-class destroyer).

Tugboats is too general a term for a piece here in the future, unless I come across and relate the tales of some of the more famous tugs (and I’ll freely admit that I will have to chase those down as I know of none off the top of my head).

Lastly, there was the search for the Naval battle during the Siege of Fort Zeelandia. Now that seems like an interesting one as well and again, I think I will have something done for this in the not too distant future as well. Fort Zeelandia was in Formosa (modern Taiwan) and a Dutch outpost. This seems rather an interesting piece of research so standby for this in the future as well.