RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

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Eugen Pinak
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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Eugen Pinak » 28 Jul 2020 12:52

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
27 Jul 2020 22:02
Many thanks for pointing that out. :thumbsup:

I don't think there are any more on-line records from UK archives, but I will be going back to Kew at some point to start copying more relevant records.
You are welcome, Tom!

It's a pity, that digitalized military records in UK NA are mostly personnel-related. However, this is understandable, as a lot of people here are looking about their ancestors.

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Rob Stuart » 02 Aug 2020 13:27

I have now been able to access AIR 27/157/35, the 11 Sqn ORB for March-April 1942. There is no mention of 11 Sqn participating in any exercise taking place on 23 March or any other late March date.

There are now two possibilities:

(1) 11 Sqn was based at the Racecourse airfield by 23 March and it's clear that the ORB was compiled there, but its aircraft operated primarily from Ratmalana until 2 April. It is perhaps possible that the Blenheims were deemed to have been detached to Ratmalana and that their training missions are listed in the Ratmalana ORB for 1 March 1942 to 31 October 1945, which is AIR 28/666. This record has not been digitized, unfortunately. It may well show that a number of Blenheins participated in the 23 March exercise and other exercises.

(2) Vildebeest and/or Seal torpedo aircraft belonging to Ratmalana's station flight, which had a few of them, were the aircraft making the torpedo attacks during the exercise on 23 March.

Of course, (1) and (2) might both have happened.

Tom from Cornwall
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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 02 Aug 2020 19:42

Hi Rob,

Thanks, that's interesting. I hadn't realised there was such a mixed bag of aircraft on Ceylon. I'd only thought that there were the Blenheims, Hurricanes and Catalinas of RAF and RCAF, and a few Fulmars and Swordfish of FAA.

I'll take a look at AIR 28/666 next time I can get to Kew. I'm hoping that will be in September with a bit of luck.

Regards

Tom

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Andy H
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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Andy H » 02 Aug 2020 22:27

Hi

This is from Of Islands, Ports and Sea Lanes by Ashley Jackson Pg193
'413 Sqn RCAF had begun arriving on March 31st (its 331 strong ground crew following on in May)....the aircraft being based at Koggala amongst the coconut plantations and there is more about the SLdr Birchalls exploits here:- http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo7/no4/stuart-eng.asp

In Wings over the Dawning by Arthur Banks Pg63 it lists the planes engaged against the Japanese Easter attacks as:-
30 Sqn RAF had 22 Hurricane II's 803 & 806 Sqns FAA had 6 Fulmars and 258Sqn had 9 Hurricane II's and 5 Hurricane I's.

Regards

Andy H

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Rob Stuart » 03 Aug 2020 03:50

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
02 Aug 2020 19:42
Hi Rob,

Thanks, that's interesting. I hadn't realised there was such a mixed bag of aircraft on Ceylon. I'd only thought that there were the Blenheims, Hurricanes and Catalinas of RAF and RCAF, and a few Fulmars and Swordfish of FAA.
My info, but not all of which is confirmed, is as follows:

-On 27 December 1941 there were 4 Vildebeest III at China Bay. Three moved to Ratmalana circa 11 March. I think they were probably still there on 5 April but I'm not sure. They appear to have been used primarily for inshore anti-submarine patrols.

-On 27 December 1941 there were 4 Seals at China Bay. There were still two on 26 March. (I don't know what happened to the other two.) On 7 April a Seal hit a stationary Swordfish on take off. Two pilots of 261 Sqn, WO John Griffin and F/S Tom Quinn (both aboard the Seal), and 273 Sqn’s MO, F/L J.C. Anstie, were killed. I image that left just one Seal but I'm not sure.

-On 26 March 273 Sqn reportedly had 9 Swordfish, 3 Albacore, the 2 Seals mentioned above, and 16 Fulmars. 788 NAS was to take over the Swordfish, Albacores and Seals. The six Swordfish lost on 5 April were presumably all from this group of nine. A separate source (a signal from Arbuthnot) says that there were only two Albacores on 27 March. They were "fleet replacements", i.e., they were being held to be issued to aircraft carriers to replace losses.

-Exeter's Walrus arrived at Colombo from Java circa 4 March aboard the auxiliary anti-submarine vessel Bulan but I have no further info on this aircraft.

-Glasgow's Walrus crashed near China Bay on 5 April. Glasgow was at Colombo 6-14 March, sailing for the Atlantic on the latter date. I would guess that it may have left its Walrus behind if it was unservicable or if it was needed for eventual transfer to another ship.

So apart from the aircraft you mention there was just a handful of a few other types.

Incidentally, four of the Catalinas were Dutch: Y-55, Y-56, Y-57 and Y-64. Y-55 and Y-57 were out of service during Operation C (they were probably at Bangalore for overhaul by HAL) but Y-56 was operational throughout early April and Y-64 was operational from 6 April onward.

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 03 Aug 2020 19:47

Rob Stuart wrote:
03 Aug 2020 03:50
My info, but not all of which is confirmed, is as follows:

-On 27 December 1941 there were 4 Vildebeest III at China Bay. Three moved to Ratmalana circa 11 March. I think they were probably still there on 5 April but I'm not sure. They appear to have been used primarily for inshore anti-submarine patrols.

-On 27 December 1941 there were 4 Seals at China Bay. There were still two on 26 March. (I don't know what happened to the other two.) On 7 April a Seal hit a stationary Swordfish on take off. Two pilots of 261 Sqn, WO John Griffin and F/S Tom Quinn (both aboard the Seal), and 273 Sqn’s MO, F/L J.C. Anstie, were killed. I image that left just one Seal but I'm not sure.

-On 26 March 273 Sqn reportedly had 9 Swordfish, 3 Albacore, the 2 Seals mentioned above, and 16 Fulmars. 788 NAS was to take over the Swordfish, Albacores and Seals. The six Swordfish lost on 5 April were presumably all from this group of nine. A separate source (a signal from Arbuthnot) says that there were only two Albacores on 27 March. They were "fleet replacements", i.e., they were being held to be issued to aircraft carriers to replace losses.

-Exeter's Walrus arrived at Colombo from Java circa 4 March aboard the auxiliary anti-submarine vessel Bulan but I have no further info on this aircraft.

-Glasgow's Walrus crashed near China Bay on 5 April. Glasgow was at Colombo 6-14 March, sailing for the Atlantic on the latter date. I would guess that it may have left its Walrus behind if it was unservicable or if it was needed for eventual transfer to another ship.

So apart from the aircraft you mention there was just a handful of a few other types.

Incidentally, four of the Catalinas were Dutch: Y-55, Y-56, Y-57 and Y-64. Y-55 and Y-57 were out of service during Operation C (they were probably at Bangalore for overhaul by HAL) but Y-56 was operational throughout early April and Y-64 was operational from 6 April onward.
Rob,

Thanks for sharing this. A fascinating mixture.

I found this file on the Discovery Search Engine:

Reference: AIR 81/13595
Description:
Flight Sergeant T A Quinn, Flight Lieutenant W J C Anstie, Warrant Officer J J Griffin: killed; Fairey Seal K4781, 273 Squadron, aircraft accident Kokkilai landin ground, China Bay, Ceylon, 7 April 1942

Was this where you got the information about the accident?

Regards

Tom

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 07 Aug 2020 17:22

Rob Stuart wrote:
03 Aug 2020 03:50
My info, but not all of which is confirmed, is as follows:

-On 27 December 1941 there were 4 Vildebeest III at China Bay. Three moved to Ratmalana circa 11 March. I think they were probably still there on 5 April but I'm not sure. They appear to have been used primarily for inshore anti-submarine patrols.

-On 27 December 1941 there were 4 Seals at China Bay. There were still two on 26 March. (I don't know what happened to the other two.) On 7 April a Seal hit a stationary Swordfish on take off. Two pilots of 261 Sqn, WO John Griffin and F/S Tom Quinn (both aboard the Seal), and 273 Sqn’s MO, F/L J.C. Anstie, were killed. I image that left just one Seal but I'm not sure.

-On 26 March 273 Sqn reportedly had 9 Swordfish, 3 Albacore, the 2 Seals mentioned above, and 16 Fulmars. 788 NAS was to take over the Swordfish, Albacores and Seals. The six Swordfish lost on 5 April were presumably all from this group of nine. A separate source (a signal from Arbuthnot) says that there were only two Albacores on 27 March. They were "fleet replacements", i.e., they were being held to be issued to aircraft carriers to replace losses.
Hi Rob,

These snips are from the ORB of 273 Sqn RAF at China Bay (AIR27/1581/27):
273 Sqn - 4 Apr 42.GIF
273 Sqn - 9 Apr 42.GIF
273 Sqn - 1 May 42.GIF
Regards

Tom
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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Rob Stuart » 11 Aug 2020 17:23

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
03 Aug 2020 19:47
I found this file on the Discovery Search Engine:

Reference: AIR 81/13595
Description:
Flight Sergeant T A Quinn, Flight Lieutenant W J C Anstie, Warrant Officer J J Griffin: killed; Fairey Seal K4781, 273 Squadron, aircraft accident Kokkilai landin ground, China Bay, Ceylon, 7 April 1942

Was this where you got the information about the accident?
Tom,

My original sources were Bloody Shambles, vol. 2, p. 411; and Tomlinson's The Most Dangerous Moment, p. 138. I also verified the particulars of the deceased via the CWGC web site. Later a obtained a copy of AIR 27/1581/27 which confirms/amplifies my original sources. I was not aware of AIR 81/13595, so thanks for drawing my attention to it.

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 13 Aug 2020 19:51

Rob Stuart wrote:
11 Aug 2020 17:23
Tom,

My original sources were Bloody Shambles, vol. 2, p. 411; and Tomlinson's The Most Dangerous Moment, p. 138. I also verified the particulars of the deceased via the CWGC web site. Later a obtained a copy of AIR 27/1581/27 which confirms/amplifies my original sources. I was not aware of AIR 81/13595, so thanks for drawing my attention to it.
Thanks, I've been trying to get a copy of those two from the library for a while but I think reservations are held up by the COVID situation here in the UK.

I think those RAF casualty reports have just been released (it says "open June 2020" on the UK TNA website). There are several related to the actions on both 5 April and 9 April.

For example, AIR81/13583 - Squadron Leader P C Fletcher: injured; Hurricane 5680, 258 Squadron, aircraft hit by anti aircraft shell, pilot baled from aircraft and attacked during descent, Colombo Harbour, Ceylon, 5 April 1942.

And there seem to be RN casualty reports that might be of interest too:

ADM 358/1006 - Fleet Air Arm officers and ratings reported missing: aircraft failed to return to HMS Indomitable, 5 April 1942; HMS Avenger, 4 May 1942; HMS Argus, 14 June 1942; presumption of deaths.

Regards

Tom

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Rob Stuart » 15 Aug 2020 15:16

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
13 Aug 2020 19:51
Rob Stuart wrote:
11 Aug 2020 17:23
Tom,

My original sources were Bloody Shambles, vol. 2, p. 411; and Tomlinson's The Most Dangerous Moment, p. 138. I also verified the particulars of the deceased via the CWGC web site. Later a obtained a copy of AIR 27/1581/27 which confirms/amplifies my original sources. I was not aware of AIR 81/13595, so thanks for drawing my attention to it.
Thanks, I've been trying to get a copy of those two from the library for a while but I think reservations are held up by the COVID situation here in the UK.
The Most Dangerous Moment and the chapter on Ceylon in Bloody Shambles are both indispensable sources, but both are flawed. The flaws include the following:

-TMDM cites a number of incorrect assertions from Fuchida's error-ridden account of Operation C, taking all of them at face value.

-TMDM and BS are pretty good when it comes to air operations but both are weak on maritime operations, especially when it comes to Ozawa's attack on merchant shipping in the Bay of Bengal

-BS totally omits the 8 April sighting of KdB's approach to Trincomalee by a Catalina and gives the impression that it was not sighted until the morning of 9 April

-BS incorrectly converts GMT and "Tokyo time" (used in IJN records) to local time in a number of cases, such that the timing of several 9 April events are wrong by exactly one hour

Tom from Cornwall
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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 16 Aug 2020 19:51

Rob Stuart wrote:
15 Aug 2020 15:16
The Most Dangerous Moment and the chapter on Ceylon in Bloody Shambles are both indispensable sources, but both are flawed.
Rob,

Thanks. I'll bear that in mind. BTW really enjoyed your articles on the subject - about time you put a book together and corrected some of the misconceptions that are out there!
Rob Stuart wrote:
15 Aug 2020 15:16
BS incorrectly converts GMT and "Tokyo time" (used in IJN records) to local time in a number of cases, such that the timing of several 9 April events are wrong by exactly one hour
I'm currently reading "Shattered Sword" - at least there wasn't a date line in the middle of the Ceylon area, that makes life very confusing to a duffer like me! :D :D

Regards

Tom

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Rob Stuart » 17 Aug 2020 09:56

Tom from Cornwall wrote:
13 Aug 2020 19:51
[...]
I think those RAF casualty reports have just been released (it says "open June 2020" on the UK TNA website). There are several related to the actions on both 5 April and 9 April.

For example, AIR81/13583 - Squadron Leader P C Fletcher: injured; Hurricane 5680, 258 Squadron, aircraft hit by anti aircraft shell, pilot baled from aircraft and attacked during descent, Colombo Harbour, Ceylon, 5 April 1942.

And there seem to be RN casualty reports that might be of interest too:

ADM 358/1006 - Fleet Air Arm officers and ratings reported missing: aircraft failed to return to HMS Indomitable, 5 April 1942; HMS Avenger, 4 May 1942; HMS Argus, 14 June 1942; presumption of deaths.

Regards

Tom
Tom, thanks for alerting me to the casualty files in AIR 81 and ADM 358. They've not been digitized, but it's good to know that they're there, and in the case of the AIR 81 files the descriptions themselves have new info in some cases. For example, AIR 81/13238 says that Flight Sergeant T S Paxton, KIA over Colombo, was flying Hurricane BM930, which I did not know.

Cheers,

Rob

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 20 Aug 2020 19:28

I was interested to read that the deployment of INDOMITABLE's Hurricanes were discussed at the very highest level in the UK military - this from COS Committee Minutes of their meeting of 6th March 1942 (CAB79/19/4):
8. DEFENCE OF CEYLON.

(Previous Reference: C.O.S.(42)73rd Meeting, Minute 2).

SIR CHARLES PORTAL said that Air Marshal Pierce had ordered 24 of INDOMITABLE’S Hurricanes to proceed to Calcutta. This action was, of course, within the rights of the Commander-in-Chief, but the Hurricanes had been specially sent to Ceylon for the defence of the base of the Eastern Fleet.

SIR ALAN BROOKE said that this was a position where the Chiefs of Staff would be quite correct in over-riding the orders of a Commander-in-Chief.

He then referred to a Telegram from the Commander-in-Chief, India, asking for a firm decision on the size of the Ceylon garrison. As both our naval and air forces were so weak, he thought it was advisable that we should have stronger land forces in Ceylon until the naval and air strength had been built up. He suggested, therefore, that the Ceylon garrison should be augmented by 1 Brigade of the 70th Division, 1 South African Brigade and 2 Brigades of the 6th Australian Division.

THE COMMITTEE agreed, and considered that, in view of the great importance of Ceylon as a base for the Eastern Fleet, this garrison, including the air forces now there and on the way should not be transferred elsewhere without reference to the Chiefs of Staff.

THE COMMITTEE:-

(a) Agreed that a most immediate Signal should be despatched to the effect that all Hurricanes ex H.M.S. INDOMITABLE were to remain in Ceylon.

(b) Instructed the Secretary to prepare a Telegram to the Commander-in-Chief, India, in the light of the above discussion, and invited the War Office to despatch it.
Regards

Tom

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Rob Stuart » 21 Aug 2020 11:53

Tom,

I'm currently (but somewhat slowly) drafting an article about the attack on Colombo. The relevant portion of the draft reads as follows at present:

Ceylon remained bereft of fighters until 23 February, when eight Hurricanes IIBs arrived at Ratmalana, the civil airfield about 15 kilometres south of Colombo which was taken over by the RAF on 1 March. They were part of a shipment of thirty disassembled Hurricanes which had arrived at Karachi on 3 February aboard the merchant vessel Cefn-Y-Bryn. The eight Hurricanes were assembled at Karachi and flown from there to Ratmalana. They formed the nucleus of what had become 258 Squadron by 5 April.

A much larger number of Hurricanes arrived early in March aboard HMS Indomitable. In January the carrier had been employed to ferry 48 (some sources say 50) partially disassembled Hurricanes IIBs from Port Sudan to Java, this mission being known as Operation Opponent. Indomitable left Port Sudan, on the western shore of the Red Sea, on 15 January and arrived south of Java on 27 January. Although two of Indomitable’s four squadrons had been left at Aden, the lack of elbow room in the hangars limited the number of Hurricanes which could be re-assembled and each one had to be brought up to the flight deck as soon as it was ready, to make room for another to be put together. Consequently, it took two days to assemble and launch the Hurricanes. Two batches were launched on 27 January and a final batch was launched the next morning.

On 25 February Indomitable was back at Port Sudan for another ferry run, Operation Bellows, and loaded more partially disassembled Hurricanes – probably 50 Mark IIBs and 10 Mark Is. The pilots and advance parties from 30 and 261 Squadrons were also embarked, with the rest of the ground staff sailing from Port Tewfik on Princess Kathleen, a Canadian Pacific ferry employed in peacetime on the Vancouver-Victoria-Seattle run.

It had originally been planned that Bellows would simply have been a repeat Opponent, with the fighters again being ferried to Java, but by time Indomitable sailed from Port Sudan on 27 February the fall of Java was seen as being all but inevitable and changing the destination to Ceylon was under urgent discussion by the Chiefs of Staff in London. It was not until 3 March that the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, advised all concerned that Indomitable was to proceed to Ceylon and unload all its Hurricanes there.

Over the years various authors have quite erroneously asserted that Indomitable was in route to Java and was diverted to Ceylon on Layton’s orders, in defiance of the Chiefs of Staff – and that he got away with it. This is a completely unfounded myth. As outlined above, the Chiefs of Staff ordered the Hurricanes diverted to Ceylon.

On 5 March, two days after Indomitable was ordered to Ceylon and the day before it arrived off the island, the RAF headquarters in India, to which 222 Group in Ceylon was subordinate, proposed to London that 24 of the 60 Hurricanes aboard the carrier should be sent from Ceylon to Burma, but the Chiefs of Staff were adamant that all 60 were to be employed to defend Ceylon. Their position was that “All repeat all Hurricanes ex INDOMITABLE are to remain in Ceylon” and that “Forces in Ceylon or in route to it are not to be diverted without reference to the COS.”


Please feel free to share any comments you may have on the above.

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Re: RAF Defence of Ceylon - April 1942

Post by Tom from Cornwall » 21 Aug 2020 14:00

Rob,

Just a couple of comments/suggestions:

1. In first para, is it worth saying something along the lines of: "They formed the nucleus of what had become [a reconstituted] 258 Squadron by 5 April". I hadn't realised that the original 258 was destroyed in Singapore, Java, Sumatra and at sea; it seems a shame to miss an opportunity to honour the sacrifice of the original personnel.

2. Para 4: Perhaps worth mentioning that by 18 Feb (so well before INDOMITABLE left Port Sudan), Air Ministry were directing HQ RAF ME to make the arrangements for loading onto INDOMITABLE "on assumption that this [destination] will be CEYLON". [Air Ministry signal AX.992 of 17/2]

3. Para 5: is it worth giving an example of one of the misinformed authors? I wonder if they have misunderstood fact that COS actually stopped diversion of Hurricanes from Ceylon to India rather than the diversion of Hurricanes to Ceylon?

Nothing to add otherwise, I'm afraid, although it would be of interest (but no doubt very difficult) to understand how experienced units like 258 Squadron were in terms of individual pilots and also in terms of being controlled as a formation. I had a look in the squadron ORB and now understand the long gap between the end of Oct 41 and beginning of March 1942. The details of the arrangements made and farewell parties held by the Squadron in the UK in Oct 41 are now particularly poignant reading.

More power to your writing elbow!

Regards

Tom

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