21st May 1943
Acting on intelligence garnered from the monitoring of radio traffic to and from Singapore the Royal Navy has just carried out its most glorious action of this war to date. For several days in the last week radio messages have been full of information of the movement of several Indian National Army units to Port Blair. A thorough search of the intelligence files revealed that the last known garrison on Port Blair was the IJA’s 4th Infantry Division. The enemy was no doubt redeploying this prime fighting formation to counter the move made by I Australian Corps in Eastern Burma. As such the Royal Navy at Colombo gathered its cruiser squadron and ordered to a holding position just to the North West of the Andaman Islands.
Confirmation that something was definitely up came from HMS Trusty that reported sighting and attacking a heavily escorted convoy heading Northwards at a position some 100 NMs due South of Port Blair. Orders were immediately dispatched and the RN Squadron was told to steam directly into Port Blair and to try to get the Japs with their pants down. The presence of enemy carriers could not be discounted but no solid intel on their location was at hand. As History was to prove sometimes luck plays the decisive role in war!
The Shropshire and the Dorsertshire led in the RN and RNN ships whose radars immediately gave alive with repeated and numerous contacts. It seemed a large loading operation had been caught unawares. The Japanese were not seen to react until the first shells began to land among the numerous transport and escort vessels gathered at the Port Blair anchorage. The wolf had most certainly been let loose among the sheep as 8 inch shells tore into ship after ship. The escorting destroyers sped ahead of their larger sisters to deliver a point blank range torpedo attack. At such distances, the battle was largely fought at 2,000 yards, and with such a plethora of targets it was impossible to miss! A large ocean going liner took two successive torpedo hits and she was soon sinking, the fires caused by the exploding warheads hissing as the water engulfed the stricken ship. Another brace of troop transports also succumbed to the destroyer launched torpedoes. As the order ‘fire at will, engage all targets’ was given the massacre was complete. 19 enemy vessels had been sunk, the fires of the burning ships illuminating the human catastrophe in the water as burning oil and sinking ships took the lives of thousands of men that would now not see home. Little thought was given to them by the sailors. If they had caught the INA soldiers then they got a traitor’s due. If they had caught the 4th Infantry Division boarding then it was less bayonets for the Aussies to face! As the sun crept over the horizon the Royal Navy was well away from the scene. An hour later a Catalina from Trincomalee reported sighting a large force of enemy carriers in the Bay of Bengal. Luck indeed had been the bedfellow of the Royal Navy that night.
Night Time Surface Combat, near Port Blair at 46,58, Range 3,000 Yards
DD Shiokaze, Shell hits 16, Torpedo hits 1, and is sunk
E W-13, Shell hits 17, and is sunk
E W-24, Shell hits 5, and is sunk
PB Musashi Maru, Shell hits 2, and is sunk
PB Akagane Maru, Shell hits 17, and is sunk
PB Bunzan Maru, Shell hits 9, and is sunk
PB Shinko Maru, Shell hits 20, and is sunk
PB Syozui Maru, Shell hits 34, and is sunk
xAK Daigen Maru, Shell hits 20, and is sunk
xAK Syunsei Maru, Shell hits 24, and is sunk
xAK Kinkasan Maru, Shell hits 22, and is sunk
xAK Uga Maru, Shell hits 7, Torpedo hits 2, and is sunk
PB Hakka Maru, Shell hits 9, and is sunk
PB Heimei Maru, Shell hits 13, and is sunk
xAP Tatsuta Maru, Shell hits 5, Torpedo hits 3, and is sunk
xAP Keihuku Maru, Shell hits 13, Torpedo hits 3, and is sunk
PB Suyozai Maru, Shell hits 17, and is sunk
PB Fuji Maru #3, Shell hits 7, and is sunk
SC CHa-9, Shell hits 2, and is sunk
DD Van Galen
DD Tjerk Hiddes
Japanese ground losses:
3408 casualties reported
Squads: 63 destroyed, 79 disabled
Non Combat: 27 destroyed, 8 disabled
Engineers: 30 destroyed, 22 disabled
Guns lost 123 (94 destroyed, 29 disabled)
Less gratifying were the news in the Solomon Islands. 16 Betty Bombers had been able to evade a CAP of 75 Hellcats and hit the Battleship South Dakota with three torpedoes. The second time the South Dak had been wounded in these waters. She was still afloat and damage control teams had had steaming solidly. Her guns would be missed during a landing planned the next day but she was now steaming away from the battle zone. Suffice to say 15 of the bombers were splashed by the Hellcats on their way home. Little consolation for the sailors on the South Dakota!
I Australian Corps, XV Indian Corps and the NCAC had been marching through the Eastern Burmese jungle with the ultimate aim of bringing the fight against the Japanese back into Burma. The intial targets were Warazup and Myitkyina but the first obstacle to surmount was secrecy. Units at the other end of the line manoeuvred to keep Japanese divisions pinned to the river line while the RAF and the USAAF fought to keep Eastern Burmese skies clear of enemy aerial eyes. Lightnings and Hurricanes shot down a large number of enemy recon planes and also kept the skies free of enemy fighters. The enemy Ki-43, ascendant for so long could not match the P-38 and as such was blasted from the sky in large numbers. Heavy and light bombers plastered the enemy units stationed at both targets and it seems that surprise was total when the 6th, 7th and 9th Australian Divisions blasted out of the jungle and quickly took both objectives. Immediate enemy reaction was slow with several night raids carried out by Ki-45′s and daylight raids by Sally’s. Yet short and long range has detected movements both North from Lashio (33rd and 55th Infantry Divisions) and the West (8th Infantry Division among other units) heading towards Myitkyina. Surprise had been achieved quite easily, the hard fight was about to begin.