Indian Ocean Fleet Battle



  • In March 1942 the British break a Japanese code speaking of an undated attack in the Indian Ocean targeting the air bases, harbor and dry docks at Ceylon. Vice Admiral Sommerville decides not to withdraw his aging fleet and decides to meet the Japanese, however he has no date of the attack.

    Japanese carrier planes attack Ceylon, finding no major warships but sinking the HMS Hector and a destroyer. The British aircraft meet the attack in the air downing 19 Japanese planes at the cost of 40 British.

    The two fleets however never met. The Japanese were able to sink the cruisers Dorsetshire and Cornwall along with the ancient carrier Hermes. Japan retired it’s fleet which was running low on fuel.

    Somerville was able to save his fast carriers HMS Indomitable and Formidable.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    Thank you for introducing me to this Eastern op.
    I was not aware of it.
    I think Somerville made the right decision, as these two carriers helped the UK safeguard the Med later. If they had remained in the Indian Ocean, I believe the  Japanese would have seen them off with no significant losses. 
    To the UK, their loss here could  have made the difference to Italian chances in North Africa. HMS Formidable seems to have had a great WW2 career.



  • The British Ships in the fleet.
    3 carriers
    5 battleships
    7 cruisers
    15 destroyers
    100+ aircraft
    30 smaller warships
    50+ merchant ships

    Jsapan Fleet consisted these ships.

    6 carriers
    4 battleships
    7 cruisers
    19 destroyers
    5 submarines
    350 aircraft


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    Thanks. The difference was more than numbers, of course.
    The Japanese tactics were far superior as were the air units and crews.
    The British would not have stood a chance and were better used against the unlucky Italians.
    The Cavalry(US) was always going to win the day!


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    It’s hard to say how the sea battle itself would have gone if the two fleets had met.  The pre-Midway Imperial Japanese Navy was still a first-rate force, and the Royal Navy had a long tradition of skillful and aggressive sea combat, so both sides would have probably made a good fight of it.  ABWorsham quotes a two-to-one disparity in carriers in favour of the IJN, so this would have been a significant plus on the Japanese side.  I haven’t looked up the details of each side’s dispositions, but one factor with unpredictable effects would have been whether the RN’s carriers included any of the ones they produced with heavily armoured flight decks (such as Illustrious): they had the advantage of being harder to sink but the disadvantage of carrying only about half the number of planes of an unarmoured carrier (which lessens both their offensive striking power and their defensive combat air patrol capability).

    In terms of India and Ceylon, however, the capture of both of those would have required Japanese ground troops.  Japan was already becoming overextended in that department at that point of the war: lack of troops was one reason why the Japanese advance ran out of steam at Guadalcanal and in New Guinea, and why Japan was never able to occupy more than strategic parts of China. Japan might have perhaps managed to capture and hold Ceylon for a while, given that it’s a fairly small island, but occupying a country as big India and with such a large population (India contributed 2.5 million troops to the Allied war effort) would have been out of the question.


  • Liaison TripleA '11 '10

    All they had to do was given the Indians the chance to “liberate” themselves from England.  And the Japanese would have had a co-conspirator!

    The Airpower alone would have swung the battle in Japans favour…



  • Sommerville’s plan was to take the battle to the Japanese in a night action in hopes that his ship radar and a few carrier planes equiped with radar could make up for his ships age and even the odds againist the better equiped Japanese.


  • 2017 '16 '15 Organizer '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    But the Japanese were the best night action fighters.



  • Interesting coincidence seeing this thread!  We’re play testing a scenario about this very raid (Operation C the Japanese called it) this weekend using my Pacific War gaming system.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    Excellent. Tell us how it goes.



  • @Pacific:

    Interesting coincidence seeing this thread!  We’re play testing a scenario about this very raid (Operation C the Japanese called it) this weekend using my Pacific War gaming system.  Â

    Keep us posted on the outcome!



  • @Imperious:

    But the Japanese were the best night action fighters.

    Had the British got what they wanted in this battle the Royal Navy would have a defeat much like the Russians did at Tsushima.


  • 2017 '16 '13 '12

    It is interesting to see this theater of action. It’s difficult to understand what value the Japanese got from these operations, it would have been better to use these ships to seek / destroy the American navy. The British Empire was on the defensive anyway.



  • I believe it was to limit the effect of a two front war. Attempt to knock the British Fleet out while the U.S was recovering from Pearl Harbor. To seek out large U.S forces the Japanese would have to send ships deep into U.S controled waters.

    At this point of the war Rommel looked to have a chance to capture Egypt, without the British Eastern Fleet had this happened, there is a chance that the Axis powers could have opened supply routes in the Indian Ocean.


  • 2017 '16 '13 '12

    @ABWorsham:

    I believe it was to limit the effect of a two front war. Attempt to knock the British Fleet out while the U.S was recovering from Pearl Harbor. To seek out large U.S forces the Japanese would have to send ships deep into U.S controled waters.

    At this point of the war Rommel looked to have a chance to capture Egypt, without the British Eastern Fleet had this happened, there is a chance that the Axis powers could have opened supply routes in the Indian Ocean.

    I wonder what the impact of an earlier Midway attack might have been.

    It seems like Midway had limited strategic value such that the Americans might have decided to leave it alone. Maybe an earlier attempt to take the Solomons and Isolate Australia would have been more beneficial.



  • My “philosphy” about what more axis victories, or less, would mean for the outcome of the war is bascily in terms of economical and humanitarian damage to the allies who would have won no matter what (at least after 1941).

    More japanese victories, and even a japanese conquest of india would basicly mean that the british empire would deteriorate faster, and the situation in the post-war colonial world would be more chaotic. Britain would probably lose their colonies faster, maybe the falklands war would have ended differently and maybe hong kong would be chineese after the civil war. Britain might not have been in a position to create an israeli state. Other than that, india/pakistan might have been a different conflict, if even split.


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Omega1759:

    I wonder what the impact of an earlier Midway attack might have been.  It seems like Midway had limited strategic value such that the Americans might have decided to leave it alone. Maybe an earlier attempt to take the Solomons and Isolate Australia would have been more beneficial.

    Depending on how much earlier it might have happened, and on whether the Japanese had captured the island, one thing that could have been affected was the mid-April 1942 Doolittle Raid.  After the actual raid, Japan started to view Midway as a dangerous “keyhole” whose air cover gave the US fleet an entry route into the central Pacific west of the Hawaiian Islands; this was one of Japan’s motives for trying to capture Midway in early June 1942.  If Japan had captured Midway in, let’s say, early April, this would probably have required the Doolitle Raid task force to take a different and longer route; it’s even remotely possible that the raid might have been cancelled (unlikely though that might have been).



  • We played our Pacific War  scenario “Operation C”.  I decided to go with the original Japanese plan of sending an additional occupation fleet/force in order to conquer Ceylon.  It quickly became obvious why the planners shelved that plan.  Attrition, attrition, attrition.  Of course, this would force some commitment of forces by Britain given the fact that so much of the Desert War’s supply line was based on the cape of good hope shipping routes. It turns out that there wouldn’t be much (or very possibly ANYTHING of any use) left for Midway (which would of course have had to be postponed) except maybe some empty carriers and some surface assets.  We’ll keep working on it though and hammer out a workable scenario eventually….



  • We were play testing the Operation C for Pacific War last night again.  It’s 98% there and we had an excellent game.  I just took an HOUR typing up a recap of the game complete with pictures and in depth commentary.  While I was working on literally the second to last sentence, I somehow highlighted the ENTIRE POST while typing and ERASED IT!!!  I am sick to my stomach right now.  I can’t just retype it because the creativity is gone.  I’ll get stuck trying to remember what I already typed……this SUCKS!!!    😢


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 Customizer '13 '12 '11 '10

    @Pacific:

    While I was working on literally the second to last sentence, I somehow highlighted the ENTIRE POST while typing and ERASED IT!!!Â

    Very sorry to hear this.  I’ve had similar mishaps over the years.  I’ve lost messages typing them into browsers, which taught me to block-and-copy them as a safety measure before hitting “Post”.  If what I’m writing is at all long, I’ll compose it in Word rather than the browser, then copy it to the browser.  I formerly used Notepad for such drafting until I discovered that Notepad only remembers one set of text alterations, and thus that Control-Z (undo) only works once in Notepad.  In Word it works more than once (letting you recover multiple previous versions of your text), so there’s less danger of accidentally wiping out a whole block of stuff (as happened to me just two weeks ago).  And Word also periodically stores a temporary draft of your text, even if you haven’t actually saved it, which is an added layer of safety.



  • That’s pretty much what my buddy just told me.  My problem is that I’m a technoidiot.  This world of computers astounds and confuses me……even my watch is a wind up!  Now I just gotta figure out Word…yuck.  Thank you very much for your sympathies…I appreciate it!  🙂


  • 2020 2019 2018 2017 '16 '15 '14 '13 Moderator

    You have mine too Pacific War.
    I am a technophobe. All my posts are done on my phone as it corrects me, so I am faster.
    I have lost 3 3-400 word posts, because my phone cannot always retain long pieces.


  • Customizer

    Gentlemen,

    ––I recently read a very good book,…“THE GREAT SHIPS, British Battleships in WW2”, one of the Stackpole series of military books I’m sure everyone is familiar with. It explains the broad and complete issues that all of the British Battleships encountered in WW2, including the Indian Ocean operation of the Japanese. Basically it projected that the Japanese airpower would have been dominant and overwhelming against these old and SLOW Battleships that had very outdated and weak anti-aircraft defenses. It’s a Great book, that is very thorough and even-handed in it’s study of it’s subject,…from before the 1st battleship to the end of the last British one. I reommend it.

    “Tall Paul”



  • Thank for the book review, I will look into the book.



  • Well, we finally got the Op.C scenario for Pacific War balanced. � Here’s the general board situation at the end of round seven � (sorry it’s blurry):

    �

    The outline of the southern tip of India is at the top and Ceylon is mostly occupied by the Japanese in the center. � To the east is the Japanese base in the Andaman islands and to the west is the British base in the Maldives. � Both players are dead even in victory points and victory for one side or the other is imminent. � Both have strengths and weaknesses. �

    Here’s the Japanese situation:

    Most of Ceylon has been occupied with only Colombo still in allied hands. � While they have taken considerable losses, the Japanese still have a lot of aircraft left and enjoy extreme air superiority bordering on supremacy. This perceived airpower can be deceptive though as it is very brittle. � More than a few more lost aircraft and Japan will certainly lose the game. �  Land forces have been stretched to the limit while reinforcements are far away in the Andamans and will take time to cycle to the front. � In the meantime, the growing British fleet presence around Ceylon is taxing Japanese surface forces to the breaking point. � Couple this with reconnaissance reports of a British relief convoy bound for Ceylon and you have all the elements necessary for a potential disaster for the IJN. �  This is just the situation that Nagumo had dreaded……

    And the British situation:

    The British , particularly the Ceylon Defense Forces, have taken heavy losses on Ceylon but they have fought a brilliant delaying action against the Japanese. � Paratroops and aircraft from India coupled with supplies thrown in from wherever they could be scraped up throughout the Empire have taken a heavy toll on Japanese occupation forces. � Although the only thing standing between the Japanese and Britain’s last port on the island is the remnants of the CDF, fresh troops are en-route from the Andaman islands and airdropped reinforcements are being readied in southern India. � These troops could well turn the tide on the island provided they are not intercepted by Japanese forces and they arrive in time….  Meanwhile, exercising tenacious audacity, Somerville has finally managed to bring his Far East Fleet within range of Nagumo’s strike force. � With Japan’s air assets nearly overwhelmed with priorities on both land and sea, the time to close in has arrived. � It’s a risky gambit though because the brittle British fleet is flirting with disaster. �  At this point victory is with reach of both players. �

    That’s where we stopped because it was getting late and Randy (my crafty opponent) had a long drive home ahead of him. � The game was neck and neck and could go either way. � At this point, after multiple playtest games, we thought it fitting to declare the game a tie and not play the final round to see who would emerge victorious. � It’s balanced and that’s what we wanted. � Next time it’s to the death!


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