Royal Navy in Eastern Waters – Linchpin of Victory 1935 – 1942 – Review

The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters – Linchpin of Victory 1935-1942 by Andrew Boyd, Foreword by N A M Rodger, published by Seaforth Publishing on 20th March 2017, ISBN: 9781473892484. This book contains 538 pages and is a heavy tome to read cover to cover. The book is well researched and is good value to the reader wanting to know some specific things from this era and area.

I must confess however that when I first saw the title, then the sub-title of “Linchpin of Victory, 1935-1943” I was ready to hold a negative opinion from the start – although perhaps that is not such a bad way to approach a book review. I felt that describing the Royal Navy in Easter Waters as the linchpin to victory was to downplay the considerably larger contribution to victory of the Atlantic and Arctic Convoys, not to mention the hard yards performed by the USA and Allies in the Pacific. Boyd’s book, however, lays out the strategy that saw the creation of the British Pacific Fleet in 1945 which was the most powerful British Fleet ever and capable of standing up to anything the IJN had left. Perhaps a more accurate title may have been Linchpin to the British Part of the Victory.

As I started to look through the book I was pleasantly surprised. It is not a book that is easy to sit down and read from cover to cover as it is written in an academic style. The amount of research in the book is simply outstanding, the notes alone stretch from pager 416 to page 500 with a further 27 pages of bibliography. The book is split into 4 parts contaning 8 chapters overall:

  • *Part I Prpararing for a Two-Hemispehere War
    • The Royal Navy 1935–1939: The Right Navy fir the Right War
    • Naval Defence of the Easter Empire 1935–40: Managing Competing Risks
  • *Part II Existential War in the West
    • Securing Eastern Empire War Potential after the Fall of France
    • The American Relationship, ABC-1 and the Resurrection of an Eastern Fleet
  • *Part III July 1941: The Road to Disaster in the East
    • Royal Navy Readiness for a War with Japan in Mid-1941: Intelligence and Capability
    • Summer and Autumn 1941: Reinforcement and deterrence
    • The Deployment of Force Z and its Consequences: Inevitable Disaster?
  • *Part IV An Inescapable Commitment: The Indian Ocean in 1942
    •  The Defence of the Indian Ocean in 1942
  • *Conclusion

In addition to the chapters, there are maps and tables as well as some illustrations. THe oreward is by noted naval historian N A M Rodger.

The book looks at the background of the fleet over the period, not the battles although some are mentioned such as the Force Z disaster. Rather this book concentrates on the politics, committees and people who effectively ensured that by 1945 the supply lines from Asia to the Mediterranean had been kept open across the Indian Ocean whilst at the same time building the most powerful British Fleet ever in time for the closing stages of the Pacific War.

There are some areas in the work that may raise eyebrows, like, for example, Boyd’s claims about what the Fleet Air Arm may have achieved should a carrier battle have occurred in the Indian Ocean. That said, the book is sitting at an easy to reach place on my bookshelf, where I can refer to its information as I read further about the British Pacific Fleet in particular.

Rodger notes that “this new account ought to startle the many comfortable ideas which have been doxing too long in the arm-chairs” and I would agree that Boyd’s work is a challenge to long held “truths”. It certainly achieved its aims with me in many areas and the prodigious amount of research present in the book does saves a lot of additional research for the reader while at the same time encouraging the reader to research more.

Well Recommended.

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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.

The British Pacific Fleet – The Royal Navy’s Most Powerful Strike Force by Davis Hobbs in 2011, Seaforth Publishing, a Pen & Sword imprint has been released 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.

British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II: Vol 2, Battleships & Aircraft Carriers – a Review

coverI was very much looking forward to my last trip back to Australia. Apart from getting to see mother, I had a review copy of British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WW II: Vol 2, Battleships & Aircraft Carriers (ISBN: 9781848322530) written by Malcolm Wright and published on 23 September 2015 waiting for me. This volume covered Capital Ships, namely Battleships and Aircraft Carriers of the British Commonwealth, something I have had an interest in since reading up on Task Force 57 and so I really could not wait to open the package. Whilst most will recall the British Commonwealth Navies efforts in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, their exploits are less well known in the Indian and Pacific Oceans at the time.

What is also not often realised is that by the end of the Second World War, the United Kingdom had more aircraft carriers under steam than any other navy with the exception if the US Navy. The British Pacific Fleet in 1945 for example consisted of 6 fleet carriers, 4 light carriers, 9 escort carriers and 2 aircraft maintenance carriers, with a total of more than 750 aircraft. It also contained 4 battleships.

HMS Malaya
HMS Malaya

The current volume from Mal covers the Aircraft Carriers and Battleships of the British Commonwealth Fleets, often with their pre-war colours as well as their active service camouflage in the Second World War.

I should state at the beginning that I have known the author, Malcolm Wright, for a number of years and you can see my name on his acknowledgements page, not from any addition to the story of the ships and camouflage he is writing about but more from being his part-time technical geek when things go wrong with the computer when he is working on the drafts.

I mentioned that I could not wait to open the parcel containing the book. Wow! I was impressed with Mal’s first volume but this volume surpasses even the high standard of Volume 1. Perhaps it is because it is a book about the battlewagons and carriers or perhaps it is Mal’s drawing ability and the new tools he is using but this volume now sits on top of my book pile for easy reach when I have an hour spare and a hot cup of lapsang souchong in hand.

The book follows the format of Volume 1, with sections on the Reference Sources Mal has used, Paint Types and Schemes, a glossary of Symbols used with the drawings then the vessels themselves. The 5 chapters covering the ships deal with the World War 1 era battleships and battlecruisers, the modern battleships, the monitors, then aircraft carriers and lastly fleet carriers.

Some of the colour chips
Some of the colour chips

Before starting on the ships, Mal discusses the various paint types and schemes, both the official Admiralty schemes and the unofficial. He also looks at Admiralty special schemes and the Admiralty Standard Scheme. Mal also provides a page covering British and Commonwealth Warship Paints During WWII being a page of paint chips, very useful for ship modellers and wargamers. This is also of interest to those with just an interest in warships to see an example of the colours used on British Commonwealth ships during WWII although as Mal will agree, the colours are at best an approximation of the colours, subject both to the limitations of printing as well as there being no extant example of the colours – see for example the discussion on the Mountbatten Pink colour scheme.

Aircraft gloassary
Aircraft glossary
Gun and equipmwent glassary
Gun and equipmwent glassary

There are two pages of, for want of a better term, a glossary for the drawings. The first covers aircraft symbols used in the book to indicate the aircraft carried by various vessels although the markings and colours may vary. The second page is a glossary of the symbols used for weapons and electronics in the book.

There are multiple views of the different vessels reflecting the changes in camouflage over the years. For examples, HMS Queen Elizabeth is illustrated in 1915 as she appeared when providing bombardment support at Gallipoli, then her 1936 colours, followed by 1941 (port and starboard), 1943 (port and starboard), 1943-44 (port and starboard) and then 1944-5 (port and starboard) – ten illustrations showing the progression of camouflage schemes and colours on this vessel over its service life. This pattern is repeated through the book.

HMS Victorious - 1945
HMS Victorious – 1945

To book not only concentrates on British Commonwealth vessels but also covers those vessels transferred to other navies, for example, the Royal Sovereign, which was transferred to the Soviet Union and was re-christened Archangelsk.

There are top views of some vessels as well. The top views become even more valuable with the aircraft carriers. For example, the illustration of HMS Victorious when she was serving in the British Pacific Fleet.

HMAS Albatross
HMAS Albatross

The book is rounded out with a chapter on the escort carriers, some of the more colourful of the capital ships in the British Commonwealth forces and with a discussion of HMAS/HMS Albatross.

I highly recommend this book and it is available from:

Pen and Sword Books (the publisher)

Amazon 

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