Aircraft Carrier with Force Z 1941

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Andy H
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Aircraft Carrier with Force Z 1941

Post by Andy H » 29 May 2004 04:22

When Repulse and the Prince of Wales plus destroyers set out to counter the Japanesse landings in Malaya, it was envisaged that the fleet carrier Illustrious(?) would have been with the force, but the carrier had been forced into dock in the US for repairs.

Given that when both ships were sunk, the Japanesse bombers were approaching the limit of there range, would the presence of the British carrier have saved the force?

Andy H

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Post by maltesefalcon » 29 May 2004 12:49

Depends on what kind of aircraft the British had on board at the time. I know they had good fighters once the US was fully involved but the bulk of their inventory prior to that was fairly antiquated.

If their fighters were old biplanes, could they even catch a modern land based bomber, let alone shoot it down?

Anyone have better research?

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Post by maltesefalcon » 29 May 2004 14:26

Did a little research myself:

HMS Illustrious had a complement of 36 aircraft at the time, with a single squadron of Fairy Fulmars, the balance being Swordfish.

The 20 odd Fulmars would have perhaps accounted for more than the 3 Japanese aircraft lost in the actual battle, but I doubt if they could have prevented the eventual outcome on their own.

It is quite likely the British would have lost her too.

Here's a link to the battle:
http://www.angelfire.com/ia/totalwar/ForceZ.html

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Tim Smith
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Post by Tim Smith » 29 May 2004 15:26

Andy:

In actual fact it was Indomitable that was meant to operate with Force Z, not Illustrious.

In November 1941 Indomitable's aircraft complement was:
9 Sea Hurricane I's
12 Fairey Fulmars (2 seater, 8 x .303in guns, bit like a fighter version of the Fairey Battle bomber)
24 Fairey Albacore torpedo bombers (successor to Swordfish, biplane, enclosed cockpit, fixed landing gear, hardly faster than Swordfish).

With that complement, I imagine that Indomitable would have maintained a CAP of 3 Hurricanes and 3 Fulmars airborne, with an identical force ready to launch on the flight deck. A third force would be undergoing maintenance and refuelling belowdecks, with the last 3 Fulmars being earmarked for escort of an Albacore strike mission if required.

Force Z was spotted twice by Japanese submarines and reported. The presence of Indomitable, had she been present, would have been reported as well. In which case the Japanese would know before launching a strike mission that a carrier was present, and so the strike force would have been given Zero fighter escort. The A5M2 Zero had the range to escort the bombers on this mission. The bombers had a range of 3,000 miles, the Zero a maximum range of 1,900 miles with drop tank. But Force Z was only 450 miles from the Japanese airfields around Saigon when it was attacked. Even accounting for the dogleg course the Japanese flew, adding at most another 250 miles to the 450 mile range, the Zero would still have the range to make the trip and have 1/3 of its fuel available for combat.

Historically the Japanese strike force consisted of 27 Mitsubishi G3M3 'Nell' level bombers, which attacked first, and 51 Mitsubishi G4M1 'Betty' torpedo bombers. 78 bombers in all. That's a lot of bombers for 12, or at most, 15 British fighters to stop, even without a Japanese fighter escort.

Even if no Zeros had been present, at best the British would have downed about 24-30 bombers before they could make their attack runs. Half of those would be the level bombers, half the torpedo bombers. That still leaves at least 36 torpedo bombers to make their attack runs. The Indomitable would be the primary target, so she would definitely be sunk first.

But if (as I believe would have been the case had the Indomitable been present) the Japanese strike force been escorted by about 18-24 Zeros, then at best the British fighters would have only downed about 12-15 bombers (again half and half level and torpedo) before the Zeros cut them to pieces. That's nowhere near enough to prevent a Japanese victory.

Finally the surviving Japanese bombers could have launched a second attack had one of the capital ships survived the first strike.

I'm afraid my view is that if the Indomitable had been present, all she would have achieved would be to get sunk herself, as well as the two British battleships. Although naturally Japanese aircraft losses would be far higher than the historical total of 8 aircraft shot down.

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Sam H.
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Post by Sam H. » 01 Jun 2004 02:02

So we have an instance in which it is a good thing that a larger allied force was not present. Good analysis Tim.

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Post by alf » 01 Jun 2004 12:25

I think its a moot point, Force Z always had aircover available to it from land based fighters. No 453 Squadron RAAF ( Brewster Buffalo's) were assigned to provide air cover when called on the day of the sinkings, they just werent called though till way to late, a minor mystrey of the war I guess.

A Carrier, would have just been a third capital ship sunk, the Fleet Air Arm aircraft were obsolecent at best and obsolete is a better description, like the Buffalos, they could not have matched the performance of the Japanese aircraft attacking

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Post by Andy H » 01 Jun 2004 21:26

Thanks for the correction Tim over the carrier.

The RAF sqn would have supplied around 10 fighters to the CAP.

Also missing from the action were some 7 destroyers. 4 were allocated to provide cover for the carrier, 2 never set sail with Force Z and 1 returned to Singapore before the main attack.

Andy H

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Post by Tim Smith » 01 Jun 2004 22:22

Andy H wrote: The RAF sqn would have supplied around 10 fighters to the CAP.
Andy H
Would they? I wonder.

1) Historically, the 10 RAF Buffalos arrived far too late. No reason for that to change because Indomitable is present - in fact quite the reverse.

2) If Admiral Phillips had naval air cover in the form of Indomitable and her CAP with him, would he still have asked the RAF for help? Considering inter-service rivalry?

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Post by Andy H » 02 Jun 2004 03:24

Hi Tim

Why would he turn down RAF help if it was available?

The inter-service rivalry is a bit of a red herring IMO. One of the reasons he continued with the sortie was the fact that the Army & Air Force were under intense pressure and he wanted the Navy to be seen doing it's bit

Andy

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Post by Andy H » 02 Jun 2004 03:25

Has anyone heard about a US offer or proposal that a US destroyer sqn (4 4 stacker destroyers) join the force?

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alf
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Post by alf » 03 Jun 2004 12:02

The fighters were RAAF not RAF and yes, they were called way to late, in reality they were useless as fighters anyway.

A book published by the the Royal Australian Air Force "Defeat into Victory" is the history of No 453 Squadron RAAF and covers the Malaya campagin in detail and the sinking of Force Z

Martin Middlebrook in his book "Battleship" does offer a theory as to why Phillips did not call for immediate air support once a Japanese recon aircraft had spotted the task force.

Middlebrook mentions that Phillips and "Bomber" Harris had shared a flat in the 1930's while both were living in London and Phillips had a marked disdain for airpower (perhaps being ear bashed by Harris all the time) and it was his disbelief in airpower that led him to hesitate for over an hour before requesting a CAP.

Its as good as theory as any, there is no logical explantaion as to why Phillips refused air support (unless he actually saw a Buffalo and saw they were worthless)

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Post by Andy H » 03 Jun 2004 16:10

Hi Alf

Yes Phillips was a Battleship man and he did have a marked disdain for airpower, though I'm sure that this attitude had been tempered somewhat given the events at Pearl, Taranto, though granted both were against stationary targets, but how he deny's the role played by aircraft in the Bismarck is anyone's guess.

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Post by DIREWOLF75 » 06 Jun 2004 23:29

Buffaloes werent useless, just not very good.

Presence of a carrier would possibly have prevented the its sighting by Japanese subs altogether, aircover was what made the big difference in the Atlantic convoys.
Also, Fulmar, while just barely acceptable as a fighter, was quite good at chasing subs and could probably have chased bombers equally well.

Aircraft trying to attack a target while enemy fighters are in the area will be FAR less successful than if there are no enemy fighters around, even if they have their own escorts. This didnt change until mass formations of large bombers with heavy defensive armaments was used.

Philips might have listened to the man in charge of the carrier IF he had been around, that MIGHT have made him more aware about calling for the RAAF people in time.

4 extra destroyers isnt an amazing force, but their AA WILL be yet another distraction and could perhaps even destroy a few or more likely damage several bombers.

Altogether, with the carrier and its destroyers added, i would think 1 or 2 capital ships sunk and 1 or 2 damaged.

http://www.angelfire.com/ia/totalwar/ForceZ.html
The torpedo planes flew low and dropped the torpedoes in tight formations,
That is the kind of thing that would NOT have been possible with any fighters in the air. Which might mean halving the number of torpedo hits, together with having to look out for fighters and AA from another 4 destroyers. If 5-10 Buffaloes are added, and the Japanese had not added fighters(fully possible, bombers like Betty and Nell was supposed to be able to work "alone"; or if an escort got lost on the way (while a fighter may have the same max range as a bomber, that doesnt mean they can both fly that range at the same speed(extremely unlikely even), or simply failed to rendevouz with bombers(happened plenty of times on all sides))), Force Z could have gotten away with minor damage from this attack.


According to the same site, this was the "result" of the level bombers attack
but damage repairs were quickly made and the ship was returned to normal.

A single hit from the level bombers, but from 21000 feet thats almost lucky anyway from the standards of the day.


Oh and BTW, the best british carrier fighter was probably the Seafire(Spitfire with cut wingends, improved landing gear and a few similar things to improve carrier suitability).

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Post by alf » 07 Jun 2004 01:29

Hi Direwolf,

that was an excellent post, welcome to the Form :D

The Buffalos flown y the RAF and RAAF were not the same models as those flown by the Finns in their war, its been done to death (lol) in the equipment section

In Malaya it was a dog of a fighter but the pilots who flew it could have made a difference, I agree, at low level against torpedo bombers, it would have broken up the attacks.

At high level, above 18000 ft the pilot had to manually pump fuel via a hand pump in his cockpit, making it useless but the bombers would have had to bomb from above that height and to hit a ship at high speed from 18000 ft and above was more good luck than good management in those days.

Few Zero's were encountered in the Malaya campagain, it was normaly Japanese Army fighters the RAF and RAAF encountered but like the Spitfire phobia suffered by German pilots during the Batttle of Britian, in Malaya, all fighters tended to identifed as Zero's by Allied pilots. ie the Bombers that attacked Force Z were land based bombers from Vietnam so Zero's would not have normaly accompanied them..

No one knows why Phillips failed to call for air support but its moot, he didnt till it was to late and he died for his mistake.

Up till that point of the war though, no major capital ship had ever been lost to airpower alone whilst at sea, Taranto, Pearl Harbour etc were air attackes against moored ships. Bismark was damaged by a million to one torpedo hit supposedly (least that is what the battleship advocates comforted themselves with) so all the pre war atttudes of complacency were still present.

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Post by Tim Smith » 07 Jun 2004 08:17

Direwolf:

German U-boats sank several British aircraft carriers in WWII, including Courageous, Ark Royal, and Eagle. And a Japanese submarine sank the US carrier Wasp. So an assumption that a Japanese submarine could not get within sighting distance of Force Z had Indomitable been present would be incorrect. (Sighting distance, even for a sub, is a lot farther away than attacking distance. For a sub, it's a lot easier to just spot and report an enemy force, than it is to attack it.)


Alf:

The Japanese had two completely separate air forces, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force and the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force.

BOTH forces had land-based bombers. All of the bombers which attacked Force Z were Navy bombers - the Army played no part whatsoever in the battle. And there were definitely Zeros available.

The Japanese air unit tasked with the attack on Force Z was the 22nd Air Flotilla. As of 7 December 1941, the strength of the 22nd Air Flotilla comprised of:

Genzan Kokutai - 36 Mitsubishi G3M2/3 Nells (Type 96 Rikko or Land-Based attack bomber) based at Saigon

Mihoro Kokutai - 36 Mitsubishi G3M2/3 Nells (Type 96 Rikko) based at Thu Dau Moi

Kanoya Kokutai (Detachment) - 27 Mitsubishi G4M1 Bettys (Type 1 Isshikirikko) based at Thu Dau Moi

Attached Fighter Unit - 25 Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeros based at Soc Trang, 12 Mitsubishi A5M4 Claudes at Saigon

In addition 12 Mitsubishi C5M Babs reconnaisance/observation aircraft were also based at Soc Trang.


As you can see, there were 25 Zeros at Soc Trang, 100 miles southwest of Saigon.

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