April 1942 Alternate Indian Ocean

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by Zheng He, Feb 9, 2014.

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  1. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    A little bit of a Britwank from a Yank that attempts a different twist on a long debated operation in the Indian Ocean.

    Primary POD - Codebreakers and traffic analysts at the Far East Combined Bureau in Colombo actually provided Somerville with fairly accurate intelligence regarding Nagumo and Ozawa's Indian Ocean operation OTL. In this ATL, the information is even more accurate and timely and Somerville decides that trying to take on the Kido Butai is a fool's errand. However, he sees opportunity in the dispersed nature of the Japanese force deployments and instead (after a quick 2 April replenishment stop in Colombo) he takes the Eastern Fleet north into the Bay of Bengal to engage Admiral Ozawa's Malay Force which the Eastern Fleet outmatches in terms of airpower and surface firepower. Somerville is gambling that by the time Nagumo figures out what he is doing, his ships will be too far north for Nagumo to pursue them before he has to turn back. Somerville and Layton (the RN's onshore commander on Ceylon) have a few other surprises in store to keep Nagumo occupied south of Dondra Head as well.

    Disclaimer - This ATL is based in part on the results of a "Trincomalee" scenario that I played on the old DOS based Carriers at War game that I still keep on an old laptop.
     
  2. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    1530 Hours, 5 April 1942, Force C (Carrier Task Force) Royal Navy Eastern Fleet in the Bay of Bengal - Rear Admiral Denis Boyd, Commanding Officer Aircraft Carriers stood on the flag bridge of the HMS Indomitable and watched as the last of the carrier's Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers launched. An hour earlier a PBY Catalina from Trincomalee had confirmed the sighting of a Japanese light carrier (HIJMS Ryujo) and its escorts 160 miles north of Force C after the carrier force was first reported at 1400 by a Swordfish from HMS Hermes. Boyd had known since the morning that the Ryujo's task force was in the Bay of Bengal due to the desperate distress calls from merchant ship captains reporting that they were under air attack. There were even reports of Japanese carrier aircraft bombing the port of Visakhapatnam. However, poor weather and low lying clouds had bedeviled RAF and FAA scout aircraft until the early afternoon. Now the sighting reports from reconnaissance aircraft and the calls from help from the merchant ship captains confirmed the intelligence reports that there was a carrier force and at least one independent surface raiding force operating in the Bay of Bengal to the southeast of Visakhapatnam. Admiral Somerville on HMS Warspite was headed north with Force A (the fast task force) to try and intercept the group of heavy cruisers currently feasting on the unescorted merchant ships near Visakhapatnam and Vice Admiral Willis was taking the four old R-Class battleships of Force B (the slow task force) and their escorts north to intercept the carrier force to try and pick off any ships crippled but not sunk by the air strike from the carriers launching from Force C. Boyd questioned whether or not Willis' slow ships would be able to catch any Japanese ships and he certainly thought it was risky for Somerville and Willis to be taking their battleships beyond the range of his carriers' fighter cover before the Japanese carrier was sunk but with only one light carrier to contend with Somerville decided it was a necessary risk if his plan was to succeed.

    Boyd also knew from sporadic intercepts picked up by his radio operators that a large scale air attack had taken place on the Eastern Fleet's main base at Colombo meaning that the main Japanese carrier force was likely maneuvering southeast of Dondra Head right where they were supposed to be and nowhere near the main strength of the Eastern Fleet. So far it seemed that the surprisingly detailed intelligence reports of what the Japanese planned to do were accurate and for the time being at least, everything was going according to plan. Boyd turned his attention back to his carriers' flight operations, watching the attack aircraft form up and head north. Formidable and Indomitable were sending their full complement of Albacore torpedo bombers, 45 aircraft in all, against the Japanese carrier and its escorts and the Hermes, Force C's scouting carrier, was contributing five Swordfish with the rest dedicated to search missions. With all of the carriers' fighters being held back for CAP, Boyd knew that torpedo bombers were take their share of losses, but with 50 bombers in the attack force, some would get through, hopefully it would be enough.
     
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  3. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    1700 Hours, 5 April 1942, Center Force of the Malay Force (Carrier Task Force) in the Bay of Bengal - The small fire on the stern of the heavy cruiser Chokai was under control and almost out. Vice Admiral Ozawa Jisaboru was furious that the small force of RAF Blenheim bombers had slipped past his lookouts and the six A5M Claude fighters on CAP and conducted a level bombing run on his flagship without getting detected. He felt fortunate that only one bomb scored a hit on the stern of the ship. Ozawa was even less happy about the report from one the Chokai's scout planes claiming that a force of British cruisers were 200 miles to the southwest and headed north, not toward Ozawa's small force centered on the light carrier Ryujo but possibly toward the Southern Force composed of the heavy cruisers Mikuma and Mogami and an escorting destroyer. Ozawa was not sure what to make of this report because major British fleet units were not supposed to be in the Bay of Bengal, they were supposed to be operating in the Indian Ocean out of Colombo. Was the sighting wrong or had intelligence missed the mark on the Eastern Fleet's dispositions? As Ozawa pondered this dilemma, he suddenly found himself with more immediate problems on his hands. The Chokai's lookouts spotted a large number of low flying aircraft approaching from the south. Ozawa's froze in horror as the distinctive shapes of the Royal Navy's bi-plane torpedo bombers came into view and the Chokai's main battery began firing off warning shots to alert the rest of the task force of the impending threat.

    On the light carrier Ryujo, the last of the B5N Kate torpedo bombers had been taken below deck and the fight deck crews were busy spotting a shotai of three A5M fighters to supplement the six currently on CAP. Alerted by the barking of Chokai's guns, the lookouts on Ryujo quickly spotted the incoming attack aircraft. Ryujo turned into the wind as the flight deck crews frantically worked to get the three fighters on deck into the air. The six fighters on CAP dove on the attacking British aircraft as the first wave of Albacores headed toward their launch points against the Ryujo. Two Albacores fell in the first pass by the fighters but there were too many attacking aircraft and the fighter pilots had trouble taking down the sturdy bi-planes as the A5Ms were only armed with two 7.7mm machine guns. During their second pass, another Albacore fell to the fighters but a Claude went down as well thanks to the rear mounted machine guns on the Albacores. Ryujo's crew managed to get the shotai of fighters on the deck into the air and Captain Tadao successfully maneuvered his carrier through the tracks of the first six torpedoes but two torpedoes from the second wave of Albacores struck home on the port side of the ship. The small carrier quickly lost speed and started taking on water. As the carrier slowed and her helm became less responsive three more torpedoes found their marks, two on the port side and one on the starboard side. The Ryujo was doomed, the first carrier in history to be sunk by air attack, and Captain Tadao ordered his crew to abandon ship.

    While Ryujo was fighting for her life, several attacking British aircraft broke off from their attack runs on the distressed carrier and went after the escorts. Two torpedoes launched from the Hermes' group of five Swordfish found the destroyer Asagiri, she quickly took on water and rolled over and sank with heavy loss of life. Ten Albacore's executed a text book hammer and anvil attack against the Chokai but Captain Mikio showed that he knew how to drive his ship by skillfully combing nine of the torpedo tracks but one fish still found its mark, striking the cruiser amidships on the port side. Chokai took on water and slowed to ten knots but she was not in danger of sinking. The fighters on CAP hounded the slow torpedo bombers out of the area but the damage was done and the fighters had nowhere to land and all they could do was resume their patrols over the task force until their fuel ran out. On the flag bridge of the Chokai, Ozawa watched in horror as Ryujo slowly took on water, he knew that she was beyond hope of saving. At the same time, the crew fought to contain the flooding from the torpedo while Captain Mikio ordered all of the cruiser's torpedoes jettisoned as a precautionary measure. Ozawa ordered the radio operators to send out a report stating that British surface ships had been spotted southwest of the Central Force and the Central Force had been attacked by carrier-type torpedo planes. Of immediate concern was the need to warn the heavy cruisers of the Northern and Southern Forces that enemy ships and aircraft were in the area. He also hoped that his message would reach Vice Admiral Nagumo's Kido Butai, currently almost 1,000 miles to the southwest.
     
  4. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    Interesting; "hittin' 'em where they ain't" indeed

    aka as "never give a sucker an even break"...

    Now, can the British run up the score quickly and then run west to gain shore-based air cover before the Japanese react?

    Also, what did the RAF's fighter strnegth in northeast India look like at this time? A mix of Mohawks and Hurricanes, I'd guess; don't know how many. I think the AVG's operational P-40s were in Burma, along with a small RAF fighter contingent. Don't know what else was operational in India.

    Best,
     
  5. PMN1 Member

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    There is a good story on Warships1 by HMS Pinafore called Parthian Shot which has HMS Trusty and HMS Truant waiting for Nagumo as he comes back through the Malacca Strait....well good for the RN.....
     
  6. Simon Thread Killer Extraordinaire

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    There's Parthian Shot - Part One, Part Two, Part Three - as PMN1 mentioned as well as Castle Slayer - Part One, Part Two, Part Three - where the real life attack by a squadron of Bristol Blenheim bombers against the Japanese carrier Akagi which managed to penetrate the carrier's fighter defences without being noticed and almost hit her are in the story slightly luckier and several hits cause her to be eventually lost due to fire damage. There's also Bengal Bay which is about a different Indian Ocean Raid but I don't have a link handy for that one. IIRC they're all written as separate stories but there's nothing stopping them being in the same continuity. I'd definitely recommend them as pretty much all of HMS Pinafore's stories are very good.
     
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  7. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, on the subject of submarines assigned to the Eastern Fleet in April 1942, does anybody have good sources? I know about HMS TRUANT and HMS TRUSTY and I know there were four Dutch boats at Colombo at the time. Any others? Also, what Allied submarines were at Fremantle then?

    Thanks....
     
  8. zert Casual Reader, Interested Follower

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    Just caught this and you have my interest. I will also try to look at the other stories linked above. Hope you will be able to update soon. :)
     
  9. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    1800 Hours, 30 March 1942, HMS Warspite in Colombo Harbor - Admiral James F. Somerville sat in his quarters on his flagship and read the rather detailed and precise intelligence estimate of the forces his staff assessed the enemy was bringing into the Indian Ocean to attack Ceylon and the recently reinforced Eastern Fleet. While Somerville was in command of the largest battle force the Royal Navy had assembled up to this point in the war, his force was far more impressive on paper than in reality. Three aircraft carriers, five battleships, two heavy cruisers, five light cruisers, sixteen destroyers, and assorted auxiliaries certainly looked like a powerful fleet. However, Somerville knew better. Somerville wrote to his wife, "My old battleboats are in various states of disrepair and I've not a ship at present that approaches what I should call a proper standard of fighting efficiency. That fact is that until I get this odd collection of ship together and train them up, they aren't worth much." He was further dismayed by the fact that while two of his carriers HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable were two of the newest fleet carriers in the Royal Navy, neither ship was up the standards of his old carrier the HMS Ark Royal that he had led as part of the Royal Navy's famed Force H.

    Making matters worse, while Somerville found little to cheer about in his own fleet, there was no question about the force the enemy was sending against him. This is because the enemy was sending the powerful Kido Butai, led by Vice Admiral Nagumo and centered around five of the six veteran flattops that had drubbed the Americans at Pearl Harbor. These carriers had gone on to leave an indelible impression on the Allies at Wake Island, Rabaul, the Dutch East Indies, and at Port Darwin. It went without saying that these carriers were escorted by battleships, cruisers, and destroyers that were among the Imperial Japanese Navy's top of the line. This was even true for the four Kongo class battleships sailing with Nagumo's carriers which were great war veterans just like Somerville's battlewagons. Only the Japanese ships had been heavily modernized whereas only Somerville's flagship the Warspite could say the same. Somerville's four R-Class battleships were veritable antiques and at least ten knots slower than Nagumo's battleships. Churchill simply called these ships, "floating coffins." The more Somerville studied the problem before him, the more he reached a very uncomfortable conclusion - he was in command of the weaker fleet. In fact, a much weaker fleet. This meant that he would have to act in a way that was completely contradictory to his training, his education, and to the proud traditions of the Royal Navy.

    However, as Somerville continued to look at the forces that would be arrayed against him, he began to see opportunity. The Kido Butai was not the only force the Japanese were sending into the Indian Ocean. They were also sending a second force built around a single light carrier and several of the IJN's most modern and powerful heavy cruisers into the Bay of Bengal. While this force was powerful, it was one that his fleet could handle and more important, at least according to the intelligence estimate, it would operate far to the north of Nagumo's carriers, beyond the range of mutual support. Later in the war while serving as the head of the British Admiralty Delegation in Washington DC, Somerville told a group of American journalists that formulating his plan for the upcoming operation was in fact quite easy. The hard part was admitting to himself that his fleet could not go to head to head with Nagumo with a reasonable expectation of success. Once he came to the painful but in hindsight obvious conclusion, everything else fell into place rather quickly. Somerville called his chief-of-staff Commodore Ralph Edwards to his cabin to help him draft a contingency plan. The rest of his fleet was scheduled to arrive in Colombo the next morning after a run north from the Eastern Fleet's new base at Addu Atoll in the Maldives. Somerville planned to present the plan to his senior commanders. If things went well, the Japanese were going to get a very bloody nose.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2014
  10. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    "Battleboats" is really jarring; I doubt very much any

    sailor of the era would use such a term.

    Best,
     
  11. mr1940s Well-Known Member

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    This timeline is going well so far. However could you return to the font of your first update? the last update was less enjoyable to read on account of the font.
     
  12. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    According to Correlli Barnett's Engage the Enemy More Closely, that is a direct quote from Somerville.
     
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  13. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    Really? That's bizarre.

    But I bow to your book-fu.

    Best,
     
  14. zert Casual Reader, Interested Follower

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    Thanks for the update. Well we know that Somerville lives ITTL due to your post, but to what degree they can combat and damage/sink Japanese ships will be seen. Keep posting when you can please. :)

    Now is an ASB can just drop a couple nukes on the Kido Batai... Nevermind.;):D
     
  15. Simon Thread Killer Extraordinaire

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    The Imperial Japan Navy were famous, or possibly more correctly infamous, for having less than stellar damage control during WWII. To the extent that they lost ships that other navies such as the Royal Navy or US Navy could probably have saved if one of their ships had suffered similar battle damage.


    You say that in jest, but... HMS Pinafore also did And the World Turned Upside Down - Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five - where HMS Eagle gets thrown back in time from 1967 to 1941 and uses two of her Buccaneer bombers to nuke Lieutenant General Yamashita's invasion fleet that was heading for Malaya. Malaya and Singapore are still eventually lost but hold out much longer whilst in Burma the Japanese only get to the Sittang River before being stopped and eventually thrown out of both countries in early 1945. But as you say it's really for the ASB forum, still a fun read though. :)
     
  16. zert Casual Reader, Interested Follower

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    Thanks for tbe links. I am always willing to read a story where the IJA and IJN get their asses thumped. :cool:
     
  17. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    Probably no update tonight but I did change the font as requested.

    Enjoyed the "Final Countdown with British Characteristics."
     
  18. Zheng He Well-Known Member

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    I checked Barnett's source - a March 1942 letter from Somerville to his wife.
     
  19. zert Casual Reader, Interested Follower

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    Well I guess we will allow this break. :D

    Post when you can and thanks ahead of time. :cool:
     
  20. TFSmith121 War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen ... Banned

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    Okay, that's a liitle more understandable...


    Okay, that's a liitle more understandable...sort of sweet, in an odd way. Kind of like the English monarch who named his yacht after his mistresses' - um - "Fubbs"...

    I still doubt Somerville would have used to term when speaking with Willis or Boyd, however.

    Best,
     
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