5th May - 30th June 1942: Planning and preparation for Operation PEDESTAL.
Operation PEDESTAL was one of the most bold and hardest-fought convoy actions of WWII and probably one of the most discussed. The very idea of running a convoy down the MalaccaStrait down to Singapore when the enemy was in control of both shores could look ludicrous if not suicidal. It had, however, to be put in its proper context.
When news of the local truce between Commonwealth and Japanese forces reached Whitehall, it induced a string of events.
The most important of these was political, for the Imperial government clearly understood the lethal danger in which the entire Empire stood at the time. Despite Somerville’s victorious battle of the KarimataStrait, despite the holding of Rangoon, the shock delivered to the edifice of Empire had cracked its very foundations.
Never could the British government have hoped that Gort's defence could stall the Japanese attack. Those who knew the man were certain he would extract the highest possible price for the fall of Singapore, and would spare nothing including his own life to inflict maximum losses to the enemy. However, few were prepared for the success of Operation Vimy Ridge and the subsequent collapse of Japanese forces, which stunned London as much as Tokyo, although naturally not for the same reasons.
The War Cabinet met on May 8th to discuss the situation created by Gort's success. Winston Churchill threw all his weight in favour of a resupply operation, against First Sea Lord and Imperial General Staff opposition. Actually, in the 1930’s the RN carried out a main fleet exercise in the waters near Crete and Greece to represent the fleet fighting is way through the Malacca Straits and came to the conclusion that for the operation to be a success virtually the entire Royal Navy would be required to have the numbers to fight the Japanese and escort relief forces for the Singapore garrison and various fleet train units. Large numbers were required to have sufficient force to reduce losses. In short, the Royal Navy decided that they hoped they would never have to do the job. In May 1942 the situation was a bit better than what had been planned as a large part of IJN forces were in South Pacific. Still, the prospect of running a fast convoy through the Malacca Straits was not one with any operational appeal for the RN.
Churchill's arguments were not without merit. The Singapore garrison was running out of ammunition. The greater the amount brought the longer the defence, and the higher the enemy losses. This also meant more time to consolidate the defence of Burma and better preparation for the counter-offensives already being planned. Nevertheless, it was clear for every body attending the meeting that the political arguments out-weighed the military to an extent which made them near-irrelevant. Even that Singapore's defence allowed Churchill to play the defiant bulldog and considerably strengthened his hand when dealing with President Roosevelt was irrelevant. No, this was a chance – perhaps the only chance – to prove to the Empire itself that it was worth keeping together, and that it was and could remain a globally powerful strategic entity.
In the end the War Cabinet endorsed the Prime Minister's will, but under following conditions:
(1) The operation had to be a one-off. It had to be made clear for every one in Singapore no second attempt was possible.
(2) Ships and crews involved in the final stage of the operation had to be seen as "expended". How many ships would reach Singapore was an open question. But it was clear from the outset that none would come back.
(3) As far as possible, only volunteer crews were to be used as a minimum of 50% losses was to be expected.
THE PLANNING PHASE
By May 11th, planning began and the next day a conference was held at the Admiralty. The two main decisions then taken were: first, to immediately send fast mine-layers Abdiel and Manxman as well as four ancient Brazilian Navy Para class ‘destroyers’ (actually 560 tons and little more than fast torpedo boats: Paraiba, Santa-Catherina, Sergipe and Paiui) to the Indian Ocean (with diesel powered MGB 502, 503 and 504 to follow soon); and second, to combine the sending of a convoy of six fast ships with planned reinforcements for the Indian Ocean Fleet. The choice of the ancient Para class was very odd – until it was realised that they had just been fully refitted in US yards as fast (but small and cheap) training ships for landing raiding parties. The Brazilian Navy was willing and the USN noted that they were small, in decent condition, simple, had good machinery and above all else could be replaced in their training roles almost immediately by the simplest of conversions to the worst of their old four-pipers which had machinery in such poor condition that (while it worked enough for training off Panama) it could not be used in operations.
The reasoning behind both decisions was that if the fact that Singapore had to be supplied could not be concealed from the enemy, the way it would be done could perhaps be concealed or disguised. Fast ships could quickly operate from Port Blair toward Singapore. In fact, the Japanese advance had left some bases in Allied hands, particularly Sabang, where the airfield was still operational, and Penang (although it was untenable and was actually being evacuated). The two fast mine-layers had both the speed and endurance for a fast dash through the Malacca Stait under cover of night. The Para class were fast enough and relatively silent by comparison to the large diesel-engined MGB502 class built by Camper & Nicholson. Their range was smaller if they were expected to run at full speed, but they could cover the Penang-Singapore trip during the night as well as linking Port Blair to Sabang or Penang relatively safely, and could carry a heavy armament of light automatics. They could not carry much because they were cramped but they had davits and four Higgins boats so they could offload very quickly. However, they could still carry some valuable bulk, more importantly later on, act as fast mine sweepers with Oropesa sweeps.
Shuttle operations could begin relatively quickly and then bring some high-value supplies to Singapore and evacuate wounded. However, the most important point was that such operations would most probably make the Japanese think that such fast trips were to be the pattern chosen by the British command to supply the besieged defenders.
Departure of a large convoy from Great-Britain, its passage of the Mediterranean, and of the Suez Canal, could not be hidden from enemy Intelligence. However, by mixing the convoy with a reinforcement operation for the Indian Ocean Fleet, its true nature could and was concealed. A second possible aim for the operation would be reinforcement of Port Blair, something already under way. The Andamans were already being built up as offensive base against Thailand and northern Malaya, as well as a critical flank-guard for the supply route to Rangoon and on to Chungking.
It was fully understood that the operation was dangerous. If the convoy could sail undetected to a position by 99° East and 5° North (about 80 miles west south-west by west of Georgetown Penang) there was a possibility Japanese forces would be so caught off-balance as to be unable to react quickly and strongly enough to destroy all the freighters involved. From that position, it was 24 hours at a 15 knot SOA to Singapore. The cost was recognised to be close to unbearable, as it demanded the finest, fastest merchant ships in the world, ships almost priceless for all sorts of purposes. This actually became a major driver for the new Clyde yard.
By May 15th selection of fast freighters began. There were just six ships fast enough (18kts) for the deathride, as it quickly became known, they were Breconshire, Denbeighshire, Glenartny, Glenorchy, Glenroy (reconverted from infantry assault ship) and Priam.
Volunteer crews were warned that the operation would involve an extreme level of risk. Army-type single 40mm Bofors mounts were to be fitted on each ship as well as many 20mm Oerlikons (from 3 to 4 Bofors and 8 to 11 Oerlikons on various ships). It was decided to load ships in such a way that the most important supplies could be landed first. In addition to field artillery and ammunition, more AA guns were provided and two companies of Churchill I and II tanks (for a total of 30 Churchill tanks and 6 M3 Grant) were also carried. The value of infantry tanks in repulsing the Japanese attack had been proven, and even if the Churchill was still prone to mechanical breakdowns its armour was so thick that it could make a useful pill-box.
Selection of warships also began by this date. A meeting was held on May 16th in Alexandria with Field Marshal Wavell, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Cunningham and Admiral Somerville. Both Admirals were cool about the whole idea. Cunningham had recently seen the Limnos naval meatgrinder deplete his forces. He had to protect convoys going to Crete and prepare for offensive operations. Somerville could point to the fact his Fleet was weaker than it should be although it had once defeated and once driven off the IJN in fleet actions. It could not possibly stop the Japanese Combined Fleet if the enemy decided to bring its weight to bear in the Indian Ocean. However, both were utterly convinced that something had to be done for Singapore over and above what they were already straining every nerve to do.
Allied Naval staffs were warned of the operational basics by May 18th. Actually, returning to Colombo, Somerville met R.Adm. Berenger (French Navy) who was commanding the IO French squadron, integrated into Somerville’s Fleet. Berenger supported the idea and requested a French role. He was told this would be considered – but that Somerville had to consider the nature of the MN as a ‘wasting asset’ – its losses could not be replaced. The crews of the three French destroyers Lynx, Tornade and Trombe soon volunteered for the operation. By May 21st, they were authorised to leave Colombo for a short refit at Bombay. All three warships (but not their crews) were elderly and were fitted with fast Oropesa systems, but Somerville firmly told Berenger that they were not ‘expendable’ assets. They would be used in the operation essentially as escorts to Six Fathom Bank. One day before, Abdiel, Manxman and other vessels had left home waters bound to the Indian Ocean. They would arrive to Trincomalee by June 6th.
The Evolving Context
By this time, however, the strategic situation was evolving fast. It had became clear that Gen. Yamashita was back on the driving seat in Malaya and was steadfastly pushing a major re-equipment and retraining programme, including increased co-operation with the IJN. The beginning of the war between Axis powers and USSR was also changing things. It directly allowed the Japanese Imperial Staff to authorise the sending of two more Infantry Divisions as well as tank and heavy artillery units from the Kwantung Army to Malaya. These moves were soon detected by Chinese Intelligence who interpreted them through their own lens as a shift inside China. However, they were also detected by Russian SIGINT and passed on to the British (with the source concealed of course), who passed a British assessment back to the Chinese and requested specific information about train route movements. The Chinese had this but had not fully assessed it, once they did it became apparent that this was an oceanic move and not one inside China - it was a withdrawal which weakened the IJA inside China. This had several very important impacts. It opened Chinese eyes at senior level to issues inside their intelligence system which needed addressing, it caused Chiang Kai Shek to realise that he could indeed become a senior Allied player but that the coin involved co-operative activities, and that meant he could insist on matters Wavell and T.V. Soong had been on about: matters more involving improving civil governance and economic development than to army sizes - and that took him straight back to Sun Yat Sen's vision of the KMT and not the 'super-Warlord' KMT which had developed under the pressure of war with Japan. This was a shattering revelation for Chiang and Mei Ling and it took some time to accept. Yet the lesson was clear and they were both survivors: a 'super-warlord-KMT' was a dead end so their long term survival depended on becoming sufficiently alike to the Americans and British that they retained a post-war value. For they were maritime powers and the existential threats to China had never been maritime, they could only come from the north-west, where the USSR was. The same USSR that supported the rival 'super-warlord-group' called the Chinese Communist Party. What history said was very well known indeed - if they retained the support of an external power and the KMT remained just a 'rival Imperial dynastic wannabe', then the Communists were going to win as their supporters were just over a land border and already occupied all the traditional invasion routes into China. All a super-warlord-KMT-Imperial-dynasty-wannabe' had was maritime allies. It did not even hold the Chinese heartland - the IJA did. And they had just weakened their grip there because of those fickle, incomprehensible foreign maritime allies. Few at the time understood why the KMT openly moved back to the principles of Sun Yat Sen in 1942 and finalised currency reform then began ruthless anti-corruption, economic development and 'good civil governance' campaigns (the latter complete with 'foreign devil advisers'), with such a focus on proper judicial procedures and rule of law, land reform and a civil justice system. The task was Sisyphean, but it was now recognised to be of existential importance to the KMT.
So confirmation of these moves proved to be one of those seismic events no-one saw at the time. The Chinese Intelligence confirmation tied into the secret Voroshilov accords and the Russian provision of Intelligence to the British. So by May 28th, the British War Cabinet was being informed that the enemy was preparing for a second major offensive against Singapore by mid-July and had very solid proof of this right down to the movement details and even photographs of the Chinese trains carrying the troops concerned. This fixed the date for the convoy arrival at Singapore for no later than July 8th. This implied that the convoy would leave Plymouth by June 10th.
By late May, the US CNO (Adm. E. King) came to London to discuss the global situation. He pointed to his British counterpart that the strategic situation in the Pacific was difficult at the very best, considering the fact the United States was devoting a large share of its war effort to European theatres of operations. The Singapore resupply operation, which by now had acquired the name of PEDESTAL, could then be an important move, forcing the Japanese Navy to divert forces from the Pacific. After the Battle of Coral Sea, and with Allied forces in the South Pacific now committed to a forthcoming offensive in the Solomons, the value of PEDESTAL as a diversion substantially increased. By early June the Soviet government was eager to transfer as many units as possible from Siberian districts to the West. Making Singapore’s defence last as long as possible would attract Japanese Army assets and make a possible attack from Manchuria toward Siberia or Vladivostok impossible. PEDESTAL was by now acquiring a grand strategic meaning far beyond re-ammunitioning Singapore to help preserve Burma and stabilise the schockwaves reverberating through the Empire. It had turned into major a strategic operation, politically supported by both United States and Soviet Russia. In some ways this was a vindication of Churchill's political intuition, and he immediately began to turn this into what would become a very powerful political message inside the Empire – that both the USSR and the USA actively supported the continued existence and nature of the Empire itself. This later enraged Roosevelt, and caused Stalin wry amusement.
The convoy assembling at Plymouth was to be met at Aden and escorted to Trincomalee by Battleship HMS Howe (HMS Rodney still being under repair after her damage suffered in the Battle of the Karimata Strait), CL Newfoundland, CLAA Phoebe, Coventry, DD: Quadrant, Quality, Queenborough, Quentin, Quiberon, Quickmatch, Quilliam, (F) Raider as well as four "Emergency" class destroyers HMS Onslaught (4x1 4.7-in, 1x1 4-in HA), Obdurate and Opportune (both 4 x 1 4-in HA), Porcupine (2 x 2 4in HA), four Para class, four S&T DDs similarly fitted as fast minesweepers, the three French DD as close escorts also capable of fast minesweeping, and sloops Flamingo and Pelican.
Of this force, only Coventry (with the Convoy Commander Rear-Admiral H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO aboard – he had been Rear-Admiral Commanding 10th Cruiser Squadron and was selected for the role due to his deep experience in cruiser command and with escort of fast troop convoys), the four Emergency-class destroyers, old destroyers and the two sloops were intended to be part of PEDESTAL's final dash past Six fathom Bank. The Eastern Fleet would contribute with Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe DE Flotilla of 5 Hunt-II class ships and, as already stated, the three French destroyers. By this time it had been agreed that Somerville could not to risk his two aircraft-carriers farther than a Medan-Taiping line and that Jellicoe’s DEs could go a bit farther but would turn back at dusk on the last night as their main value was for their heavy AA fire.
Links with Singapore remained open. Every night B.20 Night Angels and Sunderlands would make the long trip from Port Blair to Singapore, computing the arrival time to be able to alight pre dawn. Usually another flying-boat was the same night making the reverse trip, lifting from the water at dusk. Large RN submarines Otway and Clyde made trips to Singapore, going through the Sunda Straits and bottoming during day light. They brought some important supplies like medicines (among them 200,000 Penicillin doses) and some high-priority items. However they could carry at best 60 tons for each trip. Small "U" class boats of the Xth Flotilla were used to carry too some supplies (mostly medicines) to Penang.
Nevertheless, links were to be boosted by the build-up of 119 SQN RAF, which by early June was to include 2 Short S26M Flying boats (Short "G" class, Golden Hind and Golden Horn), 2 S.23M (Short "C" class, Clio and Cordelia), 4 Sunderland-II (already operating in support to Singapore), 4 PB2Y-2 loaned by the USN (these large four-engined flying-boats had no self-sealing tanks and were not seen fit for combat operation) and 5 Blackburn B.20 ‘Night Angels’ (officially the ‘Brisbane’) including the second prototype and 4 of the 6 Pre-series planes. Highly innovative with its retractable hull, the B.20 had a much higher speed than other flying-boats and was able to operate by day. The Aéronavale Transport and Communication Flotilla S-45 equipped with 4 LeO H-46, 2 LeO H-470 and the single Laté 611 flying boats was also to be transferred from Benghazi to Trincomalee, to be operational by June 6th but these machines had very few spares and were mostly used to move urgent equipment to the Andamans.
On June 11th Abdiel began the first high-speed run to Singapore, leaving Port Blair at 1930. The ship entered the MalaccaStrait by the 12th at 1530h and dashed at 35kts to Singapore, where she dropped anchor the 13th at 0723h. The 285t amount of supplies were hastily unloaded and the ship left Singapore by 1830, exiting from the Strait on June 14th at 1021 and reaching back Port Blair on the 15th at 0645. Heavy clouds had hidden the ship for part of her daylight journey. She was actually detected by Japanese forces during her way back and Japanese TB Chidori and Hatsukari tried to intercept her off Port Dickson but were outrun by the faster British ship. This incident was to have important consequences. One of the things it proved was that the IJN had not laid heavy minefields in the Straits – and why should they. There was little need and they needed freedom of operation in the Straits themselves.
Port Blair was of the utmost importance for linking Singapore, Penang and Sabang to Burma and India. Work on the airfield was advancing at feverish pace, and it was hoped that land-based fighters could become operational by June 20th and that Beaufighter long-range fighters could operate from there by late June. Until this time, Port Blair Station defence relied on the MN Seaplane tender Commandant Teste (disabled, used as base ship), the AA auxiliary vessel HMS Tynwald, the Xth Submarine Flotilla and float-planes based here and including the French AT-4 Flotilla with 16 Northrop N3M floatplanes and a FAA SQN with 12 "Floatfire" (Type-355) based on HMS Albatross.
The Japanese Reaction
The Truce consequences were even more traumatic among the Japanese high command than the British. They were to reverberate inside inter-arms politics until the end of the war – and sparked a revolution in the way the IJA transferred tactical lessons on fighting the Allies within its own organisation. In the short term, they altered the balance of power between the IJA and the IJN and between line officers like Gen. Yamashita and the IJA General Staff.
One direct result of the Truce was to put Yamashita back in the driver's seat. He had a clear view of IJA defects and limitations, defined them minutely and also instituted corrective actions, then devoted his energy to rebuild an effective force as quickly he could. Some historians trace the decision to launch a second offensive against Singapore to inter-arms politics. This is simply not true. If the collapse of the first offensive and the Truce had meant a tremendous loss of face for the IJA it had also been very damaging to Japan's image. This was as important a factor as the long standing feud between the Army and the Navy. This Japanese defeat deeply affected the Siamese elite’s mood. If attracting Japanese support in a conflict with France could not raise much opposition, siding with Japan in a world war against Great-Britain and the USA was a different proposition. Of course when Japan was victorious the government's position was not openly challenged. Now, it could be, and Japan could not afford to lose its standing and its bases in Thailand. Thus, making a clear-cut show of power was a necessity not just to restore IJA face but also for Japanese standing in East Asia.
This gave Yamashita both responsibility and leverage. He deliberately played the analogy with Port-Arthur in the 1904-05 war to ask for more co-operation with the Navy. He also used the analogy to define more precisely what was needed to overcome Singapore's defences. Yamashita pointed to the fact that a siege could not be successful if the enemy could be re-supplied. Effectively isolating Singapore was a first priority. He also pointed to the great effectiveness of British artillery. Already at Nomonhan artillery fire resulted in 53% of all wounded and 51% of all killed during the battle. Without negating the enemy the use of artillery, a second assault could fail – and again he was able to point to Port Arthur for irrefutable examples of this. Yamashita clearly acknowledged limitations of Japanese artillery. He had advocated from the very beginning the use of dive-bombers and close-attack planes as an effective counter-battery weapon. Japanese ground-attack planes had been effective but had suffered heavily to British AA fire. Rebuilding that close support capacity was a prerequisite of success and ground-attack planes were to specifically target British artillery positions and command posts. But, IJAAF planes would not be enough. Yamashita wanted to submit Singapore's defenders to a ring of fire so to prevent them from concentrating on any Japanese axis of attack. This implied naval support, specifically a combination of heavy guns and IJN dive-bombers to neutralize first shore batteries (through dive bombing) and then to contribute to the land battle. Then, Yamashita needed more troops, heavy artillery including 8-in howitzers, and tanks as well as good anti-tank guns to prevent British forces from launching their devastating motorised counter-strokes. The use of heavy AA guns as AT guns was also emphasized and 76mm APC shells were to be distributed to all heavy AA batteries. Having been the Japanese military attaché to Germany in 1939 and 1940, he had been very impressed by the development of SP guns from out-dated tanks. He requested that obsolete medium tanks (type-89) be converted to SP Howitzers to help negate British counter battery fire effectiveness. On the top of this, Yamashita called for reorganisation of rear echelon services so as to give his forces the necessary stability in the attack. Much of this played straight from playbooks already being actioned in Japan (with German assistance including the once-contentious purchase of some armour from the Germans – an even now seen as a highly sensible insurance policy come good) following earlier IJA disasters against French armour and effective AT and artillery fire in Indo-China.
Japanese Reorganisation and Preparations
Yamashita's demands amounted to nothing less than a radical critique of pre-war IJA policy as it had been shaped by the relatively easy fighting in China. They were not received warmly in Tokyo but came as final hammer-blows in a barrage of them which had started at Nomonham and not since ceased but vastly worsened and become more frequent. So the IJA General Staff had no other option to give the outspoken general what he demanded. This led to a major crisis in IJA HQ back in Tokyo. Yamashita wrote an explosive assessment of the data received from experiences obtained in the fighting at Hong Kong. he noted that a full search of all information received from Tokyo for the entire duration of teh first Malayan campaign had been conducted, and that not one scrap of tactical lessons had been included. This report - written by the very highly respected Colonel Tsuji Masanobu (Chief of Operations and Planning Staff, 25th Army, Malaya). The Colonel was a man hand-picked for that job not by General Yamashita - but by Imperial General Headquarters where he had been serving when the selection was made. He was 'their man' and he was known to be their man, and he was also known to have become deeply impressed by General Yamashita's performance while still remaining 'their man' back in Imperial General HQ.
Colonel Tsuji noted pointedly that the lessons learned at Hong Kong were in many respects similar to those Yamashita's men learned and actually said that " ... indeed on reading the reports of the assault on the Gin Drinkers line and analysing the tactical lessons involved it is immediately apparent that had General Yamashita and his Divisional staffs been passed these reports and tactical assessments, the 25th Army would have been far better prepared for what it faced. It is arguable that had these most valuable reports and assessments been fully disseminated that the 25th Army could have been saved so much bloodshed and loss of operational capability in the advance to Johore that the initial invasion of Singapore Island would not have been defeated." That Colonel Tsuji said this, and provided detailed analyses which unflinchingly pointed out where and when these lessons could have been applied and how high had been the cost of not applying them - well the impact was that of a very large bomb when the report hit Imperial Army HQ. Much, much worse from the perspective of those who were purged in Imperial Army HQ, Colonel Tsuji - their own man - had distributed full copies of both reports to the Chiefs of Staff of every other Japanese Army, and to Admiral Kondo's Inshore Squadron working in closest cooperation with 25th Army, with a covering request that they conduct similar 'unflinchingly courageous' operational and tactical analyses and share them with every Chief of Staff of every other Army, directly, with fuller supporting documentation for Imperial Army HQ so they could conduct deeper analysis at the strategic level as this was also lacking. He then requested immediate analysis of what had really happened at Nomonham and Khalkin-Gol, given the armoured threat faced by 25th Army. All of this was explosive, and the explosion devastated much in Imperial Army HQ. Essentially it demolished their complacency and completely discredited the 'Chinese School' which had developed, turning much credit over to the 'technology school' which had insisted that it was a combination of military technological capability and fighting spirit, and not just fighting spirit alone, which mattered on the battlefield. It all came far too late for the root-and-branch reforms required of course, that was a decade-long task and could not be done in the middle of a war anyway. But it did change the way the IJA did business in some important ways.
As the Colonel dryly noted in his postwar book 'Singapore - The Japanese Version' (Ure Smith, Sydney, 1960, translation by Margaret E. Lake, Lecturer in Japanese, University of Sydney. Please note this is real, it is a genuine and invaluable work for those interested in this campaign): 'there was very good reason I was not promoted past Colonel, and was assigned to the deepest backwater of Java for the duration of the war'.
A side effect was that listened ever more carefully to was the information Onishi was providing from Berlin. When they began to receive technical descriptions of KV-1, T-34 and KV-3 from Onishi and realised that the Matilda’s, Valentines, M3 and Churchills they were fighting were actually obsolescent light-calibre vehicles, their alarm grew exponentially. The decision to move more troops (including the 9th and 12th Infantry Divisions), two Army level artillery regiments, a full tank regiment including 37 of the new high-velocity 47mm gun armed medium tanks and 54 47mm AT-guns, and engineer units was easier to do after May 17th when the threat of a possible war with Soviet Union diminished. IJAAF units were to be re-supplied so to be effective again and able to neutralise not just British positions in Singapore but also in Penang and Sabang. New planes, including brand-new Ki-44-I and Ki-45, were also quickly sent to Malaya. Airfields damaged by Commonwealth forces during their retreat were rehabilitated and new dispersal airfields built using the local labour force (which gave birth to so much abuse of the local population that it was part of War-crime charges in post-war trials).
IJAAF Order of battle by June 28th:
Units based in Malaya/Sumatra and Thailand
3rd Hikoshidan (HQ at Kuala-Lumpur Subang) including
3rd Hikodan, based in Thailand, with 24 Ki-43 fighters, 32 Ki-48 twin engined light bombers, 29 Ki-51 close support planes. (this unit was to face British forces in Burma)
7th Hikodan, based at Kuala-Lumpur-Subang with 33 Ki-43 and 14 Ki-44-I fighters, and 83 Ki-21 heavy twin-engined bombers.
10th Hikodan, based in Sumatra (Palembang and Medan) with 38 Ki-43 fighters, 22 Ki-21 twin-engined bombers, 12 Ki-30 light single engined bombers, 5 Ki-15 reconnaissance planes. (This unit was tasked with Sabang's neutralization.)
12th Hikodan, based in Sumatra (Palembang) with 20 Ki-43, 24 Ki-44-I and 12 Ki-27 fighters. (Unit in charge of Palembang protection.)
15th Dokuritsu Hikotai, based at Kuala Lumpur-Subang, with 7 Ki-15 and 4 Ki-46 reconnaissance planes.
83rd Dokuritsu Hikotai, based at Subang and ready to move closer to Singapore with 19 Ki-51 close support planes and 12 Ki-36 close support and observation planes.
81st independent Sentai, based in Thailand (Kra Isthmus) with 9 Ki-15 and 7 Ki-46 reconnaissance planes.
21st Independent Sentai, based at Alor Setar with 27 Ki-45 Kai-a
The 1st and 2nd Dokuritsu Sentai (Close support Air Regiment), which had suffered heavy losses to British AA fire late April and early May had been amalgamated (with the 2nd DS formerly dissolved to be re-created by August 1942 in Japan).
The 1st DS was by late June 42 based at Subang and was preparing too to move closer to Singapore and composed of:
32 Ki-89 (IJAAF name for the Aichi D3A1), 6 Ki-45 Kai-b (with 1 x 20mm, 1 x 37mm Type-98 and 1 x 7.9mm as well as the capability to carry two 551lb bombs), 14 Ki-51 and 5 Ki-76.
Attached to this unit was a special test unit of 6 Kayaba Ka-1 autogyros used for observation and artillery control.
The IJAAF was operating by late June 1942 two radar stations, the first one on hills near Taiping with a German Freya radar and the second one at near the destroyed Kluang airfield site with a Japanese built Freya and one of the German delivered Wurzburg-Riese radar.
The Royal Thai Air Force contributed too, and provided protection of western Thailand airfields as well as a potential strike capability against Commonwealth forces in Burma.
Royal Thai Air Force units:
33 Ki-27 fighters, 12 Ki-21 twin-engined heavy bombers, 21 Ki-30 single engined light bombers, 14 Ki-36 close-support and observation planes.
Demands for better cooperation with the Navy was a bitter pill but one Tojo had to swallow. By early June a special covering force had been established under R.Adm Takeo Kurita's command to cover Singapore's approaches, and Kondo's 2nd Fleet was to provide direct support of the offensive by mid-July. Kondo would bring with him Ozawa’s new Second Air Fleet (which was still forming) with two light aircraft-carriers whose air-groups had been optimised for close support, and the last two slow battleships Fuso and Hyuga whose 14-in guns were seen as effective support weapons. Kondo was obviously the right man on the spot, having already co-operated with Yamashita earlier. Both men cooperated relatively well, but Kondo was not able to come to Kuala-Lumpur before June 22nd to discuss organisational matters with Yamashita. The Siamese government was pressured to contribute to the general build up and in the end provided a small squadron operating in the MalaccaStrait – but most of their land forces were committed in Burma and Cambodia.
Abdiel's successful trip to Singapore in early June had however a significant impact. It confirmed Yamashita in his belief that British forces were not ready to give up. More attempts were to be expected. The failure of the two torpedo-boats to intercept the British ship had also shown that a radar equipped fast ship was a very elusive target by night. Kondo quite cheerfully explained to Yamashita that the British were as big a pain in the behind at sea as they were on land, and had had more practise at sea in being pains in the behind.
The Abdiel incident took place as a TokyoUniversity team led by Prof. Yagi was in Ipoh calibrating one of the very first IJN land-based installations of the newly developed radar. Summoned to Yamashita's headquarters, Prof. Yagi explained it would be possible, as a stop gap, to quickly develop and manufacture radar-listening devices operating on British-used frequencies. Such devices would be less useful than radar but still would warn of the approach of a radar-equipped ship and would provide for some indication of the ship position by providing directional information. The IJN liaison officer attending the meeting jumped at this idea and, by late June 1942, Japanese ships began to receive radar-detectors. Some sets were also positioned on land to cover the SundaStrait and the narrowest part of the MalaccaStrait.
Japanese Naval Forces in the Singapore Area by July 1st.
(* indicates a radar equipped ship, # a radar-detector equipped ship)
I - Support Group for Singapore operation To leave Mako by July 6th 0600 to arrive Kuching by July 8th 2000h:
V.Adm Nobutake Kondo (CinC 2nd Fleet)
Second Air Fleet (Ozawa)
Comcardiv 4 : R. Adm. Kakuji Kakuta: CVL Zuiho (18 A6M2, 8 B5N2) Ryujo (16 A6M2, 15 D3A1),
ComCarDiv 3: CV Junyo* (16 A6M2, 6 B5N2, 28 D3A1),CVL Unyo (12 A6M2 8 D3A, 4 B5N2)
Bat Div.2: BB Fuso*, Hyuga
Crudiv 4: CA Atago*(F), Chokai
Screen: R.Adm Sentaro Omori
CL Abukuma (F)
DD Akebono, Ushio, Sazanami, Wakaba, Nenohi, Hatsuharu, Hatsushimo
II - Malacca Covering Squadron (operating from Palembang andother bases in MalaccaStrait)
IJN R.Adm Takeo Kurita
Crudiv. 7 (R.ADM Kurita): CA Mogami* (F), Mikuma#, Kumano, Suzuya
DD Hagikaze#, Hibiki#, Asashio, Oshio#, Mitsishio, Arashio.
TBDiv. 1(operating from Port Swettenham)
TB Chidori#, Hatsukari, Manazuru#, Tomozuru#,
TBDiv 2 (Operating from Port Dickson)
TB Otori#, Kasasagi, Hiyodori and Hayabusa
III Inshore Army Operations Support Group
Old CA Asama (4 x 8/45, 8 x 6/45 in casemates, AA improved) and Kasuga (1 x 10/45, 2 x 8/45, 4 x 6/45, 20kt, AA improved, rated as CA)
Ioshima and Yasoshima Taken over by IJN April 1942, topweight reduced (hangar and one bridge level removed, masting reduced). Both sent to join Kondo for supporting operations against Malaya June 1942. Both acted in their designed role as coastal bombardment and fire support ships.
IV - Siamese squadron: (based at Telok Anson)
Coast Defence ship Sri Ayuthia (F)
Armoured gunboats: Ratanakosindra, Sukhotai
TB Puket, Rayong, Songhkli, Surasdra
CMB 6, 7, 8; 9
V - Light and special forces (based at Port Swettenham):
12 Type-A Midget submarines
45 mixed small craft and auxiliary subchasers
V. - Land based 25th Koku Sentai (25th Air Flotilla) with
6th Kokutai (Naval Air Corps) with 33 D3A1, 27 B5N2, 33 A6M2 based at Ipoh and Alor Setar
7th Kokutai (Naval Air Corp) with 21 G3M2, 3 D4Y1, 3 J1N1 Based at Ipoh
Special detachment: 3 H9A1 ASW flying-boats and 12 Aichi E13A1 based at Port Swettenham
The 25th Koku Sentai had its headquarters at Ipoh and operated a Type 2 Mk 1 Mod.2 air-warning radar at Alor Setar.
Other IJNAF in the Area:
Another Special detachment of 5 H9A1 ASW flying-boats and 8 Aichi E13A1 is operating from Kuching Bay for ASW patrol as well as a land-based detachment with 9 older G3M2 Mod.21 used as patrol planes.
Not connected with the “Singapore Operation” was a force of 6 old 2nd class DDs converted as patrol and ASW boats operating from KuchingBay to cover convoys.
Japanese preparation for the second phase of the Battle of Singapore showed a much more realistic approach of the problem. However it forced them to allocate significant assets to Malaya. This was the main reason forcing Yamamoto to postpone the Noumea-Esperitu Santo Operation till late August. Actually Yamamoto even asked the 24th Air Flotilla commander to restrain some of his offensive operations "...so not to give the enemy a hint of our plans before we could be fully ready to implement them".
In this way, Singapore and PEDESTAL had reached what in retrospect could be said to have been their most important aim: divert enemy attention from the most important point and buy Allied forces a much needed breathing time to implement WATCHOVER.
The Operation Commences
By June 10th, the PEDESTAL convoy raised anchor from Plymouth under escort. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill came under the veil of secrecy to "...pay my tribute to these gallant men, some of them leaving for one of the most audacious and dangerous operations ever attempted in the history of war". At the same time, twelve French DC-3 of GT III/17, six of them towing a GA Hotspur-Ib glider and the others 72 men of the 1st Fighting France Commando led by Colonel d'Astier de la Vigerie, left Benghazi for a long trip to Colombo and ultimately Port Blair, to commence their role with the Imperial Special Forces based there and in the Mergui.
By June 13th the PEDESTAL convoy reached Gibraltar and, after refuelling, sailed through the Mediterranean. The Straits of Sicily were passed without incident under strong air cover on the 16th. Three days later the convoy reached Port Said. In Aden it was joined by the three French escorts. At Bombay, Lynx had lost her "Q" 5.1/40 mounting and got two single Army-type 40mm Bofors as well as six 20mm Oerlikons. Tempête and Trombe had long ago surrendered their "B" and "X" 5.1/40 mountings, which had been replaced each by a US pattern 3in 50cal AA gun. In Bombay, the US gun in the "X" position had given place to one single Bofors and six 20mm guns had been added.
The PEDESTAL convoy arrived at Aden on June 24th. In the meantime, HMS Manxman had succeeded in making another round trip to Singapore, leaving Port Blair by the 21st, and coming back the 24th at 0600. This second trip enabled 276 tons of stores and ammunition to be brought to Gort's men, and 315 wounded were evacuated. Japanese attempts to intercept the fast mine-layer were unsuccessful but Manxman's crew had to repulse two air attacks on the 23rd morning off Sabang, a clear signal that the enemy was stepping up his vigilance.
Outline of Operations drawn from Malaya Command Staff Narration
1st July - 8th July 1942: Operation PEDESTAL: a desperate business.
Just after dawn, the fast mine-sweeping group left Trincomalee for Port Blair. Fairmile motor launches would need to refuel before sailing with the convoy. The 24 small fast minesweepers sailed in company of the 6 old 'S' class destroyers (HMS Skate, Sabre, Saladin, Scimitar, Shikari, Sardonyx and four Para class Paraiba, Santa-Catherina, Sergipe and Paiui) and the two old French DDs Tempête and Trombe. Fairmile boats had been equipped since their arrival in Trincomalee with bottles of titanium tetrachloride to lay smoke screens, and had the usual smoke floats. Old destroyers didn't need such an equipment as they could produce smoke easily from their steam machinery. In addition to minesweeping gear, they had one 3pdr or for some one 6pdr Hotchkiss, 1 to 3 Oerlikon 20 mm guns.
More or less at the same time, four Xth Submarine Flotilla boats left Port Blair to reach their operational zone by the 6th at 00.00h.
HMS Unique (Ltn. A.F. Collett): off Phuket
HMS Utmost (Lt-Cdr R.D. Cayley), off Medan,
HMS Urge (Ltn E.P. Tomkinson), off Kuala Salangor,
HMS Upholder (Lt-Cdr Wanklyn), off Port Dickson
The two larger, older submarines HMS Otway and Clyde were already under way from Colombo to be off Alor Setar at the same time and be ready for "Operation Cuckoo".
The Brazilian submarines were also deployed (Tamoiro, Timbira and Tupi)
The tension grew during all day in Trincomalee among ships earmarked for the operation. All officers and men who were to take part had been duly informed the previous night of the very nature of the operation, of risks involved, and of the strategic necessity to get the convoy to Singapore.
Adm. Somerville had used July 1st for a general rehearsal off Ceylon, using RAF planes as sparring partners. The very concentration of ships and men, the eight freighters (as the convoy had been joined by Talabot and Pampas) assembled could only mean an important operation. A full deception plan had been organised by Somerville's staff, pointing either to a Port Blair and Sabang resupply operation, a second said the forces was a special convoy to be run through the Torres Strait to Port Moresby, and third that it was a fast convoy to run "at utmost urgency" to Darwin to boost Australian forces against an expected Japanese invasion of the continent. News about Japanese air attacks against Darwin were widespread and the story provided cover for the intensive training in AA and air-intercept procedures.
Somerville's planning had been extensive and meticulous. He was constrained by his orders asking him both to run ships to Singapore and not to expose his valuable aircraft-carriers to "undue risk" but as usual defined the level of risk himself. He had then decided on a relatively complex tactical organisation with a simple strategic purpose. The convoy itself was to be under the direct protection of the fast minesweeping group already described and to be reinforced by the French large destroyer Lynx. The convoy had a close AA screen composed of the old AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Rear-Admiral Burrough) and Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe's 5 Hunt-II DE, HMS Blankney, Eridge, Croome, Farndale and Grove.
A heavy screen was to be provided by the British Eastern Fleet. BB Nelson and Warspite, Prince of Wales and Howe,
CV Victorious 885 SQN 14 Sea Hurricane, 820 SQN 14 Barracuda II TB, 832 SQN 12 Blackburn Skua,
CV Indomitable, 800SQN 14 Sea Hurricane, 827SQN 14 Barracuda II TB, 831 SQN 12 Blackburn Skua,
CL Sheffield, Gloucester, Fiji, Trinidad, Mauritius, CLAA HMS Charybdys, Phoebe and a destroyer screen composed of HMS Quadrant, Quality, Queenborough, Quentin, Quiberon, Quickmatch, Quilliam (F), Raider, Napier, Nestor, Jervis, Ashanti, and Eskimo.
Simultaneously, what was called the "decoy group", but actually was a small convoy bound to Port Blair (Operation "Green Tea") with freighters Talabot and Pampas, would sail escorted by heavy cruisers London, Sussex, DD Onslow, Partridge, Westcott, Wishart, Wrestler, Encounter and sloops Ibis and Flamingo.
Ships would separate by July 5th at 2300 when approaching the Ten Degree Channel. The "Green Tea" convoy would peel-off toward Port Blair after the crossing. By then, the fast minesweeping group would have joined and the close escort, with the AA screen, would separate from the distant screen group. The 6th of July would see the convoy crossing the AndamanSea and, by 2400 a position at a line between Phuket and Banda-Aceh would have been reached. It was hoped that secrecy could be maintained up to this point. The 7th of July would see the convoy entering the open section of the Malacca straits. By noon, a line between Medan and Taiping would have been reached (called the Blue Line), and the distant screen would then separate and sail back north at 20kts, leaving the six freighters under the protection of the close escort group as well as the AA screen. Carrier based fighters would still operate over the convoy (helped by the Rooster beacon Coventry was carrying) and some support would be gained from RAF fighters operating temporarily from Sabang and Penang. RAF India Command and Bomber Command Far East had agreed to redeploy some units to Sabang and Port Blair and to step up night raids against enemy airfields.
By dusk, the convoy would have reached a position off Port Swettenham, called the Black Line. The AA escort group would then turn back and use the cover of night to rejoin as quickly as possible the distant screen group. Then, the convoy and its light force escort would be on its own, and would race toward Singapore in the Malacca Straits bottle neck. It was hoped that the convoy could reach Singapore by dawn on July 8th.
July 7th was assumed to be the most dangerous day as far air attacks were concerned. To try to reduce the threat, operation "Cuckoo" had been organized. Six French DC-3 transport planes would tow six Hotspur gliders to 40nm from Alor Setar where gliders would make a surprise landing by the 6th at 2300. This was actually a part of the operation the British were not happy with, regarding it as suicidal. However, it had been approved at the highest levels to test other things, specifically relating to operations planned for Corsica in 1943 and for this the use of French commandos was necessary. They would try to destroy as many of Japanese planes known to be stationed there as possible, and survivors were expected to retire toward the coast, to be brought out by large submarines Otway and Clyde. Brazilian and Xth Flotilla small submarines were to act picket and to attack enemy ships trying to interfere with the convoy. They were ordered to operate close to the coast to avoid identification errors. They were not to operate inside the 6th Fathom curve but for extreme emergency as they could not submerge in water so shallow. HMS Upholder was the boat on the most exposed station, at the very limit of the 6th Fathom curve.
Somerville had requested and got from R.Adm Berenger (Commander French Forces, Indian Ocean) three Fremantle based French submarines Pascal, Le Tonnant and Aurore to patrol between Singapore and BangkaIsland to stop enemy ships from trying to enter Malacca straits from the south. Berenger has been associated with PEDESTAL from the beginning had from the outset had supported Somerville's planning and lobbied Algiers to get as much support as possible for this operation. Actually, as Somerville was making final preparations by 2030 on HMS Nelson, he was surprised to see Berenger coming aboard. The French Admiral had a simple request. As the senior allied officer in Trincomalee with direct experience of Japanese naval night fighting he asked Somerville to allow him to take command of the close escort group from Lynx. By asking now he knew it was too late for Somerville to contact either London or Algiers. Once anchors raised, the convoy would be under radio silence. Somerville had no option but to refuse, that task had long been assigned to Rear-Admiral Burrough aboard Coventry. Being with the MN destroyers was not an Admiral’s task and such a request was far too late to make in view of current command and control arrangements. Ninety minutes later HMS Quilliam began to move. PEDESTAL was on.
At 0050 17 Wellington (14 and 104 SQN) attacked Alor Setar airfield. Results were limited and two planes damaged by AA fire. At 0140, 5 Blenheim IV (60 SQN operating temporarily from Sabang) bombed the Medan airfield. Results here again were negligible.
At 0315 the fast escort (and minesweeping) group joined the convoy coming from Port Blair. The eight ships took position in two columns around the freighters with motor launches behind. Sea was relatively smooth with a light breeze and 3/10th overcast.
Clouds began to gather after dawn. They however didn't prevented a 7th Kokutai JIN1-C fast reconnaissance plane overflying Port Blair at high-altitude by 0825. Neither Vickers Type-355 ('Floatfire') nor Spitfire-II were able to intercept her. Back at Ipoh by noon, the crew reported several large ships now moored at Port Blair. Pictures revealed at lest two freighters and two heavy cruisers. To R.Adm Kurita this was consistent with the increase in enemy radio traffic. A re-supply operation to Port Blair and possibly another blockade-running one to Singapore seemed to have mobilised a lot of energy. By 1600, as weather was clearly worsening, he ordered TBDiv-1 to patrol the Straits in the faint hope of catching one of these very fast ships the Royal Navy was using to bring supplies to Singapore. Soon after, considering the considerable flow of enemy radio transmission from Penang and Sabang, he ordered the four Siamese torpedo boats operating from Telok Anson to establish another patrol line north of the one set by TBDiv.1.
Kurita warned Kondo at 1930. By then Kondo's support force was 200 nm south of Mako. Nothing indicated more than a blockade running operation to Singapore, so Kondo kept his ships heading to KuchingBay at 15kts. Kurita also decided to warn Yamashita's headquarters and put his ship at 30 minutes readiness.
IJA headquarters had noticed a relatively high level of enemy air activity during the last few days, and Yamashita hinted at the possibility of a somewhat larger operation than just a single ship run to Singapore, perhaps a convoy bringing reinforcements to Sabang. He ordered the 10th Hikodan to prepare neutralisation strikes on Sabang for the next day.
Weather was deteriorating over the convoy, sailing south-east. By 1600 there was 8/10th overcast over the AndamanSea and weather stations in Colombo and Port Blair warned Admiral Somerville of further deterioration during the night when an active depression will move from south-west to north-east. Weather was however to improve by mid-day on the 7th, implying possible hostile air operations.
As the convoy was nearing the Malacca Straits entry a 10/10th overcast settled in by dusk with 50 mph gust of winds. By 2200 RAF Command Burma warned Somerville that Operation Cuckoo was cancelled as weather precluded glider operation over northern Malaya.
Shortly before midnight the IJAAF radar at Taiping detected the usual British flying-boats going to and from Singapore, something now routine. Lack of specialised night-fighter planes prevented any attempt to interfere and Japanese operators used these blips to improve calibration of their set.
Weather was by this time quite bad, with heavy thunderstorms raging all along the Malayan Western coast down to Kuala-Lumpur. The wind rose all over the AndamanSea and three Fairmile motor launches were damaged, one having to be scuttled (ML-138). The "B" Flotilla was largely dispersed and was not able to rejoin the convoy before early morning on the 7th. Siamese torpedo boats also suffered from the weather but kept station. By 2400 nothing had been detected in the Straits and Adm. Kurita began to wonder if the hypothetical blockade-runner had got through or had not existed at all. He ordered the 25th Air Flotilla to prepare a search pattern for the next day when the weather would improve.
At this time, the convoy crossed the Phuket - Banda Aceh line.
The weather during the very first hours of the day was bad, with winds increasing over the south of the Andaman sea till 0200 and decreasing only after 0430. However the depression center was moving North-East fast. It was raining heavily over most of the Malacca Straits and visibility was very low, but thunderstorms began to ease by 0600.
The diesel MGB, which had moved to Penang previously, joined the convoy at 0515.
By dawn, the weather situation was still so bad that the 25th Koku Sentai delayed take-off of reconnaissance planes till 0900. Siamese torpedo-boats closed the coast for a while to seek shelter from a local storm and so did the IJN TBDiv.1, which however turned back toward the middle of the Straits by 0745.
At 0824 the four ships were picked up by HMS Urge Asdic operating in the passive mode. The small submarine had too a very bad night because of the foul weather and had somewhat drifted from the initial patrol position. Ltn. Tomkinson fired at long range a full bow salvo (4 torpedoes) at 0839. IJN Torpedo-Boat Manazuru was hit just forward of the boiler room by one torpedo at 0843 and began to sink rapidly. Chidori and Tomozuru began a search pattern for the culprit and asked for air assistance as Hatsukari was collecting Manazuru's survivors. The search was unsuccessful despite arrival over Manazuru's sinking of a H9A1 ASW flying-boat at 0955. AT 0949 Tomkinson had sent a signal to Port Blair (from where it was re-transmitted to Somerville) indicating he had attacked 4 DDs and sank one. Chidori and Tomozuru left the area by 1030 to resume their patrol as Hatsukari was getting back to Port Swettenham with what has been rescued from Manazuru's crew. Two 7th Kokutai D4Y1 reconnaissance planes had left Ipoh by 0950 (nearly one hour later than expected because of foul weather), one bound for Singapore and the other to survey the Straits. It seems that by then Kurita suspected that the hypothetical blockade-runner had escaped torpedo-boats patrol lines in the night and could have reached Singapore.
Chidori TB Manazuru sunk by RN SS torpedo
At 1030, 54 Ki-21 Kuala-Lumpur based 7th Hikodan bombers took off to attack Sabang. Responding to Yamashita's orders the 3rd Hikoshidan staff had decided to combine a raid on Sabang at 1200 delivered by 10th Hikodan planes by another one delivered by the 7th Hikodan and reaching the target 40 minutes later. It was hoped that defending fighters attracted by the first raid would have landed when the second one would arrive, enabling the huge formation to deliver a knock out blow. Planned at first for 1030, the whole raid had to be delayed because of late night and early morning torrential rains. Medan based planes (9 Ki-21 escorted by 15 Ki-43) took off at 1045.
By this time weather was improving in the Straits. Overcast fell to 6/10th by 1100 and both Indomitable and Victorious maintained a CAP at 10,000ft over the convoy with 16 Sea-Hurricane ready to be scrambled.
At 1119 Phoebe's Type-281 radar detected what was called "a huge raid coming from Kuala-Lumpur right on the convoy". Charybdys and Indomitable radar-sets soon confirmed that a 50 to 70 planes raid was inbound. Both aircraft carriers launched "ready to scramble" fighters and hurriedly prepared another launch. Phoebe's Fighter Direction Officer vectored fighters toward the incoming raid. By 1133 the CAP connected with the enemy formation, attacking head-on the first group of 27 planes.
This interception was a devastating surprise for Japanese pilots. In the first 3 minutes of the massacre 15 Ki-21 were destroyed and 6 others damaged for the loss of just one Sea Hurricane hit by return fire. The formation broke up and bombers tried to hide in clouds. Calls for help soon overflowed over the IJAAF radio network and by 1140 it was plainly obvious for the 10th Hikodan control officer at Subang that something had gone awfully wrong. By then more Sea-Hurricanes were joining the fray and 7 more Ki-21 were shot down. The IJN radio watch got a hint of Army's bomber’s slaughter by 1142 and 25th Koku Sentai headquarters were to signal to Kurita by 1159 that "a large number of enemy fighters were operating over Malacca Straits".
At first IJN officers suspected a trap laid by long-range RAF fighters but, as information was sorted out from desperate radio-signals sent by bombers, the IJAAF commanding officer confirmed by 1235 that "single-engined enemy fighter planes were operating in large numbers over Malacca Straits". The meaning of such information was obvious. Only aircraft-carriers could have been responsible for such a devastating interception. Both IJAAF and IJN radio-interception services were beginning to catch signals clearly emanating from enemy ships. Actually, Somerville had interpreted what he though to be a major raid against PEDESTAL as the proof he had been detected probably in the morning and he eased radio-silence. Recovering fighters after the battle, probably the most successful so far for the FAA whose fighters were to claim 39 enemy planes destroyed (actually only 22 and 14 damaged) for the loss of just one more damaged Sea-Hurricane which missed the arresting wires and got smashed on Indomitable's island, implied some radio traffic.
By then the D4Y1 sent over Singapore had come back without having seen any blockade-runner. The plane was hastily refueled, as well as the other reconnaissance bird, which had patrolled without result south of the convoy. At 1251 three E13A1 left Port-Swettenham and a strike was prepared with 18 G3M2 and 27 D3A1 escorted by 18 A6M2 from Ipoh and 21 B5N2 escorted by 12 A6M2 from Alor Setar.
By 1324 the twoD4AY took-off again, this time to search for the British Fleet.
The first raid against Sabang had meanwhile been delivered by 9 Ki-21 and 9 Ki-30 of the 10th Hikodan escorted by 18 Ki-43. However news of the loss of 2 twin-engined bombers, 2 Ki-30 and one Ki-43 to the cost of two Hurricane had faded away.
At 1305 Yamashita called Kurita. He had reached the same basic conclusion as the IJN officer but with an Army twist. Yamashita asked Kurita to leave immediately from his anchorage off Palembang to intercept the enemy squadron, which probably was covering an amphibious operation. Yamashita added that, if one fully amphibious-trained infantry division was involved with support of some tank units, such a landing happening behind his main forces and cutting him from logistic links with Thailand and co-ordinated with an attack coming from Singapore could well spell doom for Japanese presence in Malaya.
Kurita reacted by pointing that at best his ships could not be off Port-Swettenham before 0800 on the 8th and that a day light battle against the British Indian Ocean Fleet was hopeless for his squadron. He agreed to raise anchor as fast as possible so to patrol off Singapore by midnight and alerted all naval units in the MalaccaStrait, ordering them to report the enemy without regard to possible loss and to attack if the slightest opportunity offered. But, he warned Yamashita that only Kondo's 2nd Fleet was powerful enough to take the enemy fleet on with reasonable prospects of success. By the time Yamashita talked with Kurita, Kondo was still sailing south toward Kuching Bay, having reached a position 111° 07' East and 9°04' South by 1300h. By 1335, having overheard part of the Yamashita-Kurita discussion he accelerated to 24 kts (the best his two battleships could do) and turned to South-West so to be off Singapore by 1630 on the 8th. By 1425 one of Atago’s float planes was launched toward Port-Swettenham carrying one of Kondo's staff officers.
In the meantime, the 25th Koku Sentai launched its two strikes by 1405.
Quite delighted by the relative ease with which his fighters had destroyed the Japanese raid, Somerville had waited till 1308 to turn back – pushing his orders to the limit. Illustrious sent 8 Sea Hurricanes under Coventry's control over the convoy which proceeded south east at 18kts. Sailors and officers were more confident, having seen many enemy planes going down burning. The only worry was linked to the weather. Clouds were disappearing fast from the sky and by 1400 there was just a 2/10th overcast. Port Blair was announcing another depression coming, but it would not reach the Malacca Straits’ southern end before the early hours of the 8th. One of the Port-Swettenham float-planes found the convoy at 1422 and was able to transmit the position of what he described as "2 heavy and 4 light cruisers, many destroyers and transport ships" before being downed by Sea Hurricanes. Actually, the aircraft-carriers position could have been known through the Taiping based Freya, which followed quite accurately British fighter movements till Somerville was around the Blue Line. However, despite frantic efforts of IJAAF local officers to get the information through the incomplete communications chain, their report didn't reach 25th Koku Sentai headquarters at Ipoh before 1730. Somerville was nevertheless to be spotted at 1510 by one of the two D4Y1, which shadowed for a time the retiring fleet and, to the considerable consternation of Sea-Hurricane pilots, escaped interception relatively easily.
The first IJNAF strike closed the convoy by 1527, with D3A1 and their escort fighters arriving ahead of the slower 18 G3M2. Well directed by Coventry's FDO, 8 Sea Hurricanes jumped the Japanese formation, destroying 5 dive-bombers in their first attack, before having to defend themselves against 18 angry A6M2s. In the ensuing battle, 3 Hurricanes were lost for one Japanese fighter. The surviving D3A1 regrouped and dove on the convoy under a very heavy AA fire. Glenartny was hit by a bomb but still sailed even if her speed progressively fell. Porcupine and Trombe took each two bombs as well as several near missed. Both ships were left ablaze and in sinking condition - Rear-Admiral Burrough ordered them scuttled, with Fairmiles of the 'A' flotilla recovering survivors. The Hunt-II class destroyer Croome was hit soon after by two bombs and stopped. Before anything could be attempted the 18 G3M2 (of which 6 were carrying bombs) attacked the convoy, flying into a very heavy AA fire which destroyed soon 7 planes. Freighter Glenroy was hit by two torpedoes and sank quickly. Coventry was bracketed by several bombs. Other ships had to man oeuvre hard to comb torpedo tracks, but the attack was to some extent disorganised by the vigorous defence put by Jellicoe's destroyers and HMS Coventry. The last Japanese plane left the area by 1609. Croome was scuttled by one of Onslaught's torpedoes by 1617 as it would have been much too dangerous to try to tow the ship. The convoy resumed its course toward Singapore, nearly one hour late on its timing, but the Fairmile 'B' flotilla (ML 125, 132, 133, 134, 136, 152, 154) stayed with Glenartny, which was unable to follow at 18 kts.
MN DD Trombe sunk
RN DD Porcupine sunk
RN DE Croome sunk
AK Glenroy sunk
The second raid, launched from Alor Setar, never closed the convoy. Detected at 1513 by Phoebe's radar off Penang, it was intercepted at 1547 by 16 Sea Hurricanes, losing 9 B5N2 and 2 A6M2 to the cost of 5 Sea Hurricanes.
By then, both Kurita and the 25th Koku Sentai commanders had a clearer view of the situation. The fact that British heavy units were seen retreating indicated that no large amphibious operation was under way. By 1630 most Japanese commanding officers were agreeing to the idea the whole operation was a re-supply convoy to Singapore. However, Yamashita seemed to still harbour some doubts about the true nature of the operation as he had ordered by1300h all Army units to go to general quarters and would not countermand his order before midnight. Kurita's Crudiv.7 has left its anchorage off MusiRiver mouth by 1510 and by 1700 was entering Berhala Straits. French submarine l'Aurore sighted the four heavy cruisers and the six destroyers by 1718 but was too far to try to attack. However, by 1747 the boat sent a message about this sighting to Port Blair, which relayed it quickly to both Somerville and Rear-Admiral Burrough.
IJN TBDiv.1, now strengthened by Hatsukari back from having delivered Manazuru's survivors to Port Swettenham, was ordered to sweep ahead of the convoy but to wait for night and arrival of TBDiv.2 from Port Dickson before attacking.
The three Tomozuru class torpedo boats came in sight of the convoy's vanguard by 1754. Weather was by then very good but for a slight heat haze. By 1759 Lynx and Onslaught began to trade fire with the 3 Japanese boats and TBDiv.1 Commander decided to open the range after Chidori had been repeatedly straddled by slow firing but long-ranged and accurate Lynx 5.1 in guns.
Dusk came in quickly after 1830. The convoy was still one hour from the Black Line, with Glenartny and her Fairmile escort now trailing 4nm behind. As the threat of a new air attack looked dim by now, Rear-Admiral Burrough made the critical decision to retain Coventry and Jellicoe's four surviving Hunt-class destroyers with the convoy. This had always been a tactical option, if one recognised to be costly. Burrough made it without hesitation.
Night fell rapidly. By 1927 the convoy vanguard was off Port Swettenham. Onslaught Type-272 radar and Obdurate type-291 one were tracking enemy ships at the range limit. Onslaught opened fire at 1944 soon followed by Coventry and Lynx, whose type-285 radar had been installed in April. Japanese torpedo-boats opened the range and closed the coastline, making detection difficult. By 1953 Allied ships stopped firing, having driven the attack off.
Rear-Admiral Burrough ordered Lynx back to the convoy and signaled through blinker to the destroyer "..screen will use smoke and torpedo attacks to deter heavy units trying to reach the convoy. Smaller units to be deterred by aggressive defence." This soon will be needed. By 2100 the night sky was becoming increasingly obscure as clouds gathered overhead. The convoy was by then off Batu Laut. Onslaught's Type-272 radar detected a group of ships ahead and sailing on a reciprocal bearing on the starboard beam, but soon lost contact against the coastal clutter. Rear-Admiral Burrough ordered the convoy to turn port for a while to avoid possible torpedoes and then ordered Fairmile flotilla 'A' to make smoke to hide the convoy turn. Lynx, Onslaught, Obdurate and Opportune attacked. Look-outs soon caught sight of 6 and then 7 ships, trying to by-pass the convoy’s vanguard. Rear-Admiral Burrough ordered a turn to bearing 270 to unmask the guns and torpedo mounts of his destroyers and the cruiser-Hunt escort and at 2109 the four destroyers opened fire. Japanese torpedo boats answered in kind one minute later immediately. A confused battle developed as the Japanese commander at first witheld torpedo fire (Tomozuru class TB had only 2 TT and Otori-class ones only 3) and torpedo-boats answered with their 4.7-in/40. However, by 2113 he ordered to fire torpedoes on enemy destroyers. The convoy was by then obscured by the smoke screen laid by the inner heavy escorts and lighter escorts. By this time Onslaught had scored heavily on Hatsukari and Lynx had put two 5.1-in shells on Chidori. Distance fell quickly and even Obdurate and Opportune 4-in guns began to tell. Not that Japanese gunners had been inactive, as Lynx had been hit four times losing her 'Y' gun, Onslaught and Opportune both twice. However Allied destroyers were larger and better gun platform.
Japanese torpedoes went wild and Hatsukari was again hit by Onslaught 4.7-in guns and was forced out of the line, burning heavily. Rear-Admiral Burrough ordered his ships to turn to bearing 330.
Then a bright explosion was seen astern of the convoy at 2115. Glenartny had been hit by torpedoes fired by Japanese midget submarines, acting as a mobile minefield. Fearing that some Japanese torpedo boats could have gained a position behind the convoy, Rear-Admiral Burrough ordered Coventry and the Hunts north to sweep for them. The four Allied destroyers kept firing on the IJN TB, but these had shot their bolt and, heavily damaged, withdrew to await developments and shadow as best they could. At 2117 however HMS Saladin, which held the trailing position in the convoy port side fast minesweeper line exploded after having been hit by at least one midget submarine torpedo. With Coventry and Jellicoe’s Hunts in the vicinity this was incorrectly ascribed to a mine. Convoy Commodore Capt. C.A.G. Hutchinson (on Breconshire) noted the loss and maintained course and speed.
AK Glenarty sunk
DD Saladin sunk
The battle on its starboard side was still going on but had subsided to a skirmish at long range. Onslaught had fired two torpedoes but no others had been launched by the four Allied destroyers.
Finding no Japanese ships behind the convoy and Fairmile flotilla 'B' boats rescuing Glenartny survivors, Rear-Admiral Burrough had at the same time ordered Coventry and the Hunts back to their forward screening position, reached it by 2139. By then, Japanese torpedo boats were retiring toward Sumatran coast, honours being about even between them and the four larger Allied destroyers
At 2153 the four destroyers had resumed position on the convoy vanguard, soon joined on Rear-Admiral Burrough’s order by Tempête. Having kept her torpedo tubes and two 5.1-in guns, the old French destroyer was now more valuable in the screen.
By 2300 the convoy was off CapeRachado, south of Port Dickson. It was by now clear that the convoy would not reach Singapore before 0800 or 0830. The only good news so far was that after Glenartny sinking the 'B' Fairmile flotilla could be used to protect the four surviving freighters. Having been informed of Kurita's squadron departure from Palembang, Rear-Admiral Burrough deduced that Japanese heavy cruiser squadron would probably try to ambush the convoy just before dawn. He then took a position 3 nm ahead and on the starboard side of the convoy, covered by the Brazilian Para class.
For some hours there was a lull in the battle. Weather began to deteriorate just after midnight and heavy thunderclouds were accumulating by 0230 with some rain squalls moving across the Straits.
At 0350 Brazilian submarine Timbira and HM Submarine Upholder sighted the Japanese Torpedo Boats off the Sumatran coast and attacked them in Sulat Rupat. Two Japanese ships were hit, Chidori at 0357 by Upholder and Hiyodori at 0429 by Timbira. Chidori had her stern shattered up by a Mk.IX torpedo but was able to beach herself despite heavy structural damage. Hiyodori was hit amidships and broke in two. However, no more signals were received from Upholder after 0630 and it is possible that the submarine was lost to depth-charging by Tomozuru just after her last signal or maybe later, by 0930 when a H9A1 ASW flying boat claimed to have attacked a shallow submerged submarine 12 nm north of Sulat Rupat.
IJN TB Chidori damaged and beached
IJN TB Hirodori sunk by Brazilian SS Timbira
RN SS Upholder lost to IJN/IJNAF A/S
At the same time the submarines attacked Japanese torpedo Boats, the convoy was off Tanjong Tohor when Onslaught's Type-272 radar detected ships ahead, on starboard beam. Rear-Admiral Burrough had few doubts about their identity. He ordered the fast minesweeper division (the old 'S' class DDs) to make smoke so to hide the convoy and then turned toward the enemy. At 0354 Para class (Piaui) signaled a visual sighting on a second group of ships and illuminated them with starshell.
Kurita had detached his 6 destroyers slightly ahead, following them with his 4 heavy cruisers. It was the destroyer group Onslaught's radar had detected. At this time of the action Kurita was quite confused by information he received from the Type 2 Mk 2 Mod2 radar his flagship Mogami had received. The set was a copy of the German FuMo 22 and used a manually rotating antenna. Working at 355-430 MHz it had trouble sorting out ships from coast returns. Radar detector sets fitted on DD Hagikaze and Hibiki had detected radar signals from multiple sources. However, with a thunderstorm now clearly coming in, interference was heavy and bearing indications extremely difficult to obtain. The presence of an enemy radar nevertheless confirmed Kurita in his thinking he had found the convoy and when Piaui’s starshell burst this was confirmed. Hagikaze detected the four Allied destroyers and these forces engaged at 0355.
Allied radar had difficulty picking up good returns and only Onslaught 's centimetric set was tactically valuable. Lynx and Tempête firing 3 torpedoes, Onslaught 1 and Opportune 4, before ordering another turn to port to avoid return fire. By then the five ship division had accelerated to 30kts and was locked in heavy fighting.
Mogami's radar detected ships coming on port beam, but soon their returns became confused with ones of the Destroyer group. Kurita had to wait for a visual sighting, a look-out got at 0401 but not without difficulties as a rain squall partly masked the port beam. It was soon obvious that these ships were closing fast and Kurita ordered a 90° turn to port to avoid torpedoes and unmask guns. At 0403 the four cruisers opened fire with eight-inch and 5-in DP guns.
The destroyers had gone through the rain squall, but not before Tempête, the last ship of the line, had seen one torpedo hit. Actually Allied torpedoes had found home, or more precisely one of them, which had hit Asashio at 0401. The Japanese destroyer was hit just forward of the forward turret. The explosion severed the bow and pushed the turret against the bridge but her captain, despite wounds and concussion, ordered full reverse speed so the ship decelerated quickly, easing the water pressure on internal bulkheads and stopped soon after as damage repair crews were hurrying forward. This hit nonetheless threw the Japanese destroyer line into some confusion. Mitsishio and Arashio opened fire on Tempête but lost her soon in the squall. When the destroyers exited from the squall, they soon found themselves the target of numerous heavy and medium caliber guns from Kurita’s cruiser and destroyer lines. They commenced radical turns and laid smoke. Unfortunately, Lynx and Tempête wasted their last torpedoes by firing during this phase when turning, and they all missed. All of the ships were hit, Opportune and Tempête quite heavily.
Japanese destroyers were reforming at the same time, less the stopped Asashio. Their first torpedo salvo (which had not been massed) had also missed. They began to search for their targets but detected only ‘destroyers’ coming towards them laying smoke. This was the four Brazilians, which had covered the vanguard. Japanese look-outs identified MTB with them, and then reclassified the Para’s as small torpedo boats. These were not his main targets and the Japanese destroyer commander ordered his ships to turn to port for a while to avoid torpedoes.
The same problem plagued Kurita's gunners, and the heavy cruisers stopped firing by 0408. On the other side of the smoke curtain, Burrough was assessing the situation. It was bleak indeed. Two of his five destroyers had fired their torpedoes for just one hit, two had been damaged, and Tempête was now slowing down to 23kts. He had however one advantage: he knew were the enemy was while the enemy was still obviously groping for the actual position of the convoy. From the Brazilian signals he knew that Japanese destroyers had moved north-west and were more or less abeam his convoy and that Kurita's turn to port had opened a gap between him and the Malayan coast.
Burrough then ordered the convoy to steam ahead and to close the Malayan coast as much as possible and he signaled Fairmiles and the Brazilians to move forward on its starboard beam, making as much smoke as possible and mimicking torpedo attack against any ships to be seen. Then he ordered his destroyers to turn port again, join him and Jellicoe and then they raced toward Japanese destroyers.
The five surviving Japanese destroyers had in the same time moved to starboard, guessing they were out of torpedo waters. Their look-outs had seen Kurita's gun flashes but, by 0410 the thunderstorm had broken out and lightning flashes over the water added to their problems of localizing the convoy. The Japanese commander decided to reduce speed to 26kts to take stock of the situation before deciding which way to sweep.
At 0418 Japanese look outs sighted ships coming at them and Hagikaze was bracketed by shellfire coming from Coventry – quite obviously a cruiser, and one with perhaps eight or more destroyers with her. The Japanese formation turned to bearing 320 to unmask its guns, but Hagikaze and Hibiki were both hit twice by Allied shells. By 0420 the Japanese 5-in were wreaking havoc on Lynx and Onslaught (Obdurate escaped much damage) and Burrough ordered a 180° turn as all allied ships were making smoke. Coventry was punishing Hagikaze heavily. During the turn Opportune was hit three times, losing her aft 4-in guns, but Tempête, was hit by two torpedoes and sank instantly.
MN DD Tempete sunk IJN torpedo
Warned by his destroyers that the enemy had moved north-west, Kurita also turned to bearing 320 searching for the convoy. However at 0421 Mogami's look-out sighted several fast boats exiting from the smoke cloud at relatively close range. By then Mogami's radar was giving a completely confused pictures and Kurita understood that at such close range it was impossible to sort out friends and foes. Kurita ordered then another hard turn to port to comb incoming (nonexistant) torpedoes as his 5-inch guns and AA opened fire on the assumed MTB. They soon heavily hit ML 132 and 133, which both had to stop and sank soon after.
Learning on TBS about the skirmish between flotilla "B" and Kurita's cruisers, Burrough turned again south-east, leaving "C" flotilla to try and bluff the Japanese destroyers. The 8 Fairmile boats acquitted themselves well, exiting from the smoke screen as if they were ready to fire torpedoes and then hiding again. Japanese gunners had difficulty against these assumed MTB and (as normal in all such actions) over-estimated their numbers and the losses they inflicted on them.
Coventry’s radar detected Kurita again by 0432, and still making smoke Lynx, Obdurate, Onslaught and Opportune maneuvered to launch torpedoes to which the cruisers replied while Jellicoe’s four Hunts and Coventry opened fire. By this time the thunderstorm was well under way, with a strong South-West/North-East wind and rain squalls in quick succession. Kurita's cruisers turned again south-west and then south to avoid running into torpedo waters whiloe Burrough similarly maneuvered violently. The intermittent gunfight went on till 0459 when a full salvo of 8-inch shells hit Lynx, smashed her bridge and wrecked her steering: she circled towards Kurita’s ships and attracted a hurricane of fire which tore her apart.
This allowed Burrough to disengage for a brief period to re-order hit line. Accepting the inevitable, he ordered Jellicoe to detach and cover the merchant ships.
By then the convoy was at the near Rengit and was well south of the fighting. The "A" Fairmile flotilla had taken position on the starboard beam. It is probably at this time that Kurita suspected that the actual convoy had got past him but was still quite close as he knew that he was fighting with the screen. Burrough was reasoning that if he fought as a screen protecting merchant ships to his north-east, when the ships were actually to the south-east, he could open a much larger gap between the Japanese heavies and what were, after all, very fast merchant ships. And a stern chase was a long chase. This plan worked, for Kurita ordered his cruisers to turn North-East to close the Malayan coast, triggering a violent counter-attack by Burrough. Coventry and the three O class destroyers conducted a classic crossing of Kurita’s T and hit Mogami hard (if with light shells). The threat of torpedo attack again forced Kurita to turn away to the north-west, but his ships fired a full torpedo broadside at the British formation, while beating Coventry into a pile of burning scrap. She then received several hits and blew up – there were no survivors from hr gallant crew. By dint of violent maneuvering and blind luck, Obdurate, Onslaught and Opportune escaped this heavy torpedo salvo (but received considerable gunfire damage), turned back into the smoke to reform and do it all again.
CLAA Coventry sunk by IJN CA
Meanwhile the four Brazilian ships plus Fairmiles were playing out their losing hand with the Japanese destroyers. The old Paras actually had considerable deck cargo but there was little choice in their actions.
Still unsure of where the convoy was, Kurita at 0523 ordered his destroyers to sweep the area to the MalayanCoast. By then, the thunderstorm was receding, but smoke laid by ships was pushed toward the coast. Japanese destroyer captains were still cautious as enemy fast boats were regularly getting out from the smoke curtain trying to reach a favourable torpedo launch position. Pressed by Kurita, destroyers nevertheless closed the range and engaged the enemy at short range. Arashio rammed and sank ML 212 and set ML 219 ablaze. Hibiki sank ML 220, but Mitsishio was shocked by two DCs exploding in shallow water less than 25yds of her bow. The shock actually jammed the forward 5-in turret and severely strained the hull forward, which began to leak. Al exchanged heavy gunfire which left the Brazilians shattered, Piaui and Santa-Catharina being set hopelessly ablaze: they were quickly finished off by torpedo salvoes. The remaining two ships could do no more, and left to reinforce the convoy.
BN DDT Piaui and Santa-Catharina sunk
ML 219, ML 220 sunk
IJN DD Mitsishio damaged
By 0605 Kurita got a signal from his destroyers that no enemy ships but for small boats were operating north of him and that two small enemy destroyers had been sunk. The convoy was by then south of Ayer Bahru, and actually over 40 nm distant from Kurita.
This last turned to south-east and increased speed, and was promptly ambushed by Obdurate, Onslaught and Opportune, who fired a coordinated salvo with their last torpedoes. One of these struck Suzuya, flooding her starboard engine rooms and reducing her to 12 knots and lucky 4-inch hits starting a brilliant fire on her aircraft deck. At 0615 Kurita asked 25th Koku Sentai Headquarters at Ipoh for air support, warning that while some of the enemy convoy could be closing to Singapore, he was involved in close action with the convoy screen and that they were not retreating but fighting to the death – so he thought the main convoy body was very close to his own position. However it was raining hard in Ipoh and no plane could be sent before 0710.
By 0621 a look-out on Mikuma sighted the British destroyers coming in again and a furious and increasingly close-range action erupted. It was obvious that the destroyers had few torpedoes left and were trying to get very close to use them. Kurita ordered Suzuya to detach to the west and his tactical formation began to disrupt: a series of typical circling actions began ant close range and with very choppy visibility, as the British were laying funnel and chemical smoke. This could not last long and did not, all three O class were reduced to foundering hulks by 0645. Suzuya was recalled to finish them and find any survivors while Kurita sped to find and slaughter the convoy the destroyers had so obviously just died to defend – only to find open ocean.
IJN CA Suzuya damaged by torpedo
RN DD Obdurate, Onslaught and Opportune sunk
Meanwhile the convoy had been joined by Jellicoe, with Blankney, Eridge, Farndale and Grove. The freighter Priam detonated two mines in quick succession in her paravanes but was able to maintain station despite shock damage and considerable leakage. However, Sardonyx struck and mine and sank. Convoy Commodore Capt. C.A.G. Hutchinson ordered Shikari to rescue her crew He then ordered the convoy to continue best speed to Singapore.
Kurita was no fool and had quickly realised what the convoy screen had done – he was racing south at full power. At 0701 a Port-Swettenham based E13A1 float plane had overflown his squadron and soon after relayed him that the enemy convoy had broke into two separate groups, both steaming fast to Singapore. The ‘second’ convoy as actually the two Brazilian DDT. Plotting both, Kurita realised that he had been put in an impossible position, the screen had fought to the death to convince him of something which simply was not true. H continued with his duty, though, and raced toward Singapore, ruefully reporting what had happened to Kondo.
The requested for airstrike finally took-off by 0715 from Ipoh, with 15 D3A1 escorted by 18 A6M2, soon followed by an unescorted formation of 12 G3M2. Crews had been warned of Kurita's cruisers presence and were to concentrate on the main convoy. This was not to be the only planned air-strike. Ozawa, who has followed Kurita's unfruitful nocturnal effort launched 33 D3A1 (21 from Junyo and 12 from Ryujo) escorted by 18 A6M2 (9 from each CV) at 0755 when he was still 210 nm from Singapore. His other carriers were astern and were out of range.
When Ipoh based IJNAF planes arrived over the convoy they were met by what was left of Singapore fighters. Five Allied fighters were lost for 4 D3A1 and 3 A6M2 but the raid cohesion was destroyed. Breconshire was near-missed three times but escaped serious damage. The old DD Skate took one 551lb bomb and stopped, sinking shortly after. The 12 G3M2 arrived minutes later at 0841 and delivered a horizontal bombing attack from 10,000ft. Glenorchy was hit twice but was not stopped and Jellicoes DE damaged many of them with accurate AA fire. Having fought Singapore based fighters, A6M2 tried strafing and paid for it: the volume of AA fire was unprecedented and three were lost.
RN DD Skate sunk by bomb
Kondo's planes arrived over the convoy by 0910 and Singapore island was in sight. Their attack was undisturbed but for smoke raised by fast minesweepers and Fairmile boats and extremely dense and accurate AA from Jellicoes four DE. Shikari was hit three times and capsized minutes later. Breconshire was also hit three times but remained afloat and moving fast – she had to be beached before she sank (most of her cargo was salvaged). Glenorchny was hit again and suffered much from two near-misses. This ship too had to be beached (again much of her cargo was salvaged). Denbeighshire took one bomb but was able to steam to the harbour, as did Priam.
Huge pillar of smokes indicated to Kurita that air raids had succeeded where he had failed. Actually Japanese flyers were pretty sure to have sunk all but two of the freighters, which was far from the truth. Kurita could not risk entering the range of the coast defences and so turned back to rejoin his own damaged and crippled ships. In all of this, the two remaining Brazilian DDT saw nothing and were not attacked by anyone. They also arrived safely.
The ‘safe’ arrival of four freighters and two DDT was a major victory but the cost had been appalling. Of all the ships which arrived, only two of Jellicoes Hunt-II DE were able to escape. Blankney was sunk next day in a bombing attack, Eridge two days later. However, their AA fire helped greatly to cover the very rapid unloading of Denbeighshire and Priam – next to which ships they had been stationed as close-in AA defence. The plan Jellicoe put together was to sail as soon as these were unloaded and he had even slight cover from weather but the Japanese put paid to this. Both merchant ships were sunk before unloading was completed, but this did not actually matter much to the cargoes still aboard. What was in their lowest holds was those materials not much susceptible to water damage and was all unloaded (if very slowly) by divers working at night. Remarkably, all but six of the tanks shipped with Pedestal made it to Singapore.
In the end, only the juxtaposition of a cyclone and some very good luck enabled the indomitable Jellicoe to escape two weeks later. With the arrival of the much battered Farndale and Grove at Port Blair on 22 July, PEDESTAL was over.
When the Japanese accepted the surrender of Singapore on 22 September 1942, they were informed that only the arrival of the four freighters had permitted the extended resistance. Ammunition had been especially short. It was noted later by them that the salvage of these four ships was one of the major prizes they obtained from the waters of Singapore harbour. While not returned to service for some time, these were among the finest merchant ships in existence. Indeed, two survived Japanese service to be returned to their owners postwar and one – Breconshire, was eventually acquired for use as a training ship by the Singapore Maritime Academy although she was never regarded as a museum ship, being thoroughly refitted as required and remaining a working commercial asset.