British naval yard capacity, Far East?

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TheMarcksPlan
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British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 01 Feb 2022 04:03

During 1940-41, Britain (at least Sea Lord Pound) proposed that the US redeploy much/most of the Pacific Fleet to defend the Malay Barrier from Trincomalee/Singapore. US flatly rejected this, with Admiral Stark justifying refusal on grounds of insufficient British fleet servicing capacity in the region.

Given RN's later operations in the area, the mobility of resources, the sheer size of Trincomalee's harbor, and availability of Indian Ocean locales for truly heavy maintenance, I suspect that Stark's justification was smokescreen. USN had a mix of reasons not to operate there: Anglophobia, our own cosmically stupid Pacific strategy, logistically naive fears of Japanese trans-Pacific moves, a misguided belief that USN's battle fleet meant anything to "Germany First."

Any recommended reading on the actual capacity of British facilities?
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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by EwenS » 01 Feb 2022 11:16

AIUI the proposed move was to Singapore only. Trincomalee is c2000 miles further west by sea. The USN Dockyard facilities at Cavite, in the Philippines were wholly inadequate to support any more than the then USN Asiatic Fleet, something recognised by both navies.

I’ve never found a single source detailing all the facilities around the Indian Ocean, but have managed to piece together information from a multitude of sources over the years. Perhaps the best starting point is a comment by DK Brown in “The Design and Construction of British Warships 1939-1945. The Official Record”. In vol 3 under repair ships there is the following comment:-

“With the fall of Singapore the remaining combined resources in the Indian Ocean area were stated to be barely equivalent to one half of Portsmouth Dockyard....”

One subject I have looked at is dry dock facilities. The loss of Singapore meant the loss of the huge King George VI dry dock, AFD9 (50,000 ton lift) able to take the largest capital ships and AFD10 (5,000 ton lift). The only other battleship sized dry dock in the IO until 1944 was at Durban. The next nearest was AFD5 at Alexandria (32,000 ton lift but not capable of taking ships longer than a Queen Elizabeth class).

Looking around the rest of the area, Simonstown only had a cruiser sized dock. Bombay had a dock that could take an Illustrious class but the RN preferred to send them to Durban when possible. Colombo had only cruiser sized docks. Until floating docks turned up at Trincomalee from late 1943, it had no docking facilities, with ships being sent to Colombo or Durban. It took the Bombay facility 12 months to rebuild the stern of the destroyer Nubian and refit it in 1941/42, which may say something about its capabilities.

When Massawa was captured from the Italians in April 1941, efforts were immediately made to bring its facilities, including 3 floating docks of 2,500, 5,900 and 9,500 tons lift capacity, back into use. That was achieved by mid-1942 and several cruisers saw action damage repaired there later that year.

As for Trincomalee itself, AFAIK it was never intended to be any more than a refuelling anchorage for the RN fleet as it moved east to the base at Singapore. The large natural harbour was provided with massive fuel storage, second only to Singapore itself. Not for nothing do you see it being described as Scapa (Flow) with palm trees! The RAF airfield at China Bay only opened in August 1938 and the FAA only took up lodger status in Aug 1940. When the Eastern Fleet moved back there in late 1943 and expanded through to 1945, most of the support facilities were afloat. Compare that with Singapore.

As for Singapore itself, while it formally opened in Feb 1938, work on it went on into 1941. But the scale of the original plan from 1922 was never achieved as the money tap was turned on and off. However from 1937-39 British planning revolved around sending a fleet of 7-12 capital ships plus supporting carriers (up to 5), cruisers (up to 15) and destroyers (5 flotillas) to be based at Singapore so the Admiralty must have felt it had a reasonable capacity to support it.

IIRC from reading Boyd “The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters” (and I may be mistaken because there is so much in that book) at one point there was confusion between the RN and the USN about what was being proposed re the movement of the US Pacific Fleet to Singapore. The RN saw the USN as a temporary replacement for an RN fleet, while the USN thought it was going to be an augmentation of an RN fleet. Maybe that is where Stark’s concerns about capacity comes from. I’ll have to reread that chapter.

The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by TheMarcksPlan » 01 Feb 2022 16:29

EwenS wrote: Boyd “The Royal Navy in Eastern Waters”
Yes, thanks. I've perused this book for other research reasons, will return to it.
EwenS wrote:AIUI the proposed move was to Singapore only. Trincomalee is c2000 miles further west by sea.
Being on the Singapore station did not imply operating out of Singapore only or even primarily. Prince of Wales and Repulse were supposed to have vacated Singapore in event of war, for example; Admiral Phillips' death ride was his own dumb initiative:
On two occasions prior to the outbreak of war
Pound even suggested to Phillips that he consider taking his ships away
from Singapore.1
When Japan initiated hostilities, Churchill himself
believed that these vessels should be moved out of harm's way. His
memoirs record how, on the night of 9 December, a meeting, 'mostly
Admiralty', was convened in the cabinet war room to consider the naval
situation in the Far East. According to Churchill, there was general
agreement that these ships 'must go to sea and vanish among the
innumerable islands.' "The 'Singapore Strategy' and the Deterrence of
Japan: Winston Churchill, the Admiralty and the
Dispatch of Force Z" in English Historical Review
----------------------------------------------
EwenS wrote:As for Trincomalee itself, AFAIK it was never intended to be any more than a refuelling anchorage for the RN fleet as it moved east to the base at Singapore. The large natural harbour was provided with massive fuel storage, second only to Singapore itself. Not for nothing do you see it being described as Scapa (Flow) with palm trees!
An Eastern Scapa Flow provides a powerful operating base, however, even if it can't do repairs following a major action. Pound seems to have been thinking this way in late 1939 (same article as quoted above):
Pound believed, however, that a small covering force could
do no more than secure communications in the Indian Ocean and deter
the Japanese from major operations in the South China Seas or
Australasian waters. If the Japanese fleet moved south in strength, he
expected British naval forces to retire from Singapore and operate from
another base, probably Trincomalee.3
...while that involves a "small covering force," such a force could no more conduct major repair/overhaul at Trincomalee than could a larger force. Meanwhile, the harbor's large fuel reserves and vast anchorage ensure that a much larger force could use it as a forward operating base.

--------------------------------------

What I'd envision is combined Allied fleet using Singapore/Trincomalee as forward operating base but not for major overhaul/repair. As war clouds loom in Summer/Fall 1941, deploy a vastly superior Allied navy to Singapore/Trincomalee, from which it could be ready to sortie for probably at least a year before its assets need time in drydock. If you deter Japan with force until mid-1942 (so the thinking would go in 1941), you've bought time for reinforcement of the Philippines and Malay Barrier. This allows the Allies to avert Pacific disaster even if they face a few months of naval inferiority in Southeast Asia while the Trincomalee fleet is dispersed/weakened (in mid-'42) for maintenance.
EwenS wrote:The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.
Of course, military considerations weren't the sole considerations. US hypocrisy and Anglophobia (especially in the USN) played a large part as well.
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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by rcocean » 01 Feb 2022 22:51

EwenS wrote:The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.

Of course, military considerations weren't the sole considerations. US hypocrisy and Anglophobia (especially in the USN) played a large part as well.
Just to introduce some, actual y'know history, in the speculation. The USA did not have a defense treaty with the UK to defend Sinapore or with the Dutch to defend the NEI. The American people in 1941 would've been suprised to learn that they were on the hook to defend either place.

And we didn't "forget" our position in the Philipppines, whatever that means. For some reason people need to be constantly reminded that after 1935, the Philippines were a COMMONWEALTH and were no more a colony of the USA, then Canada was a colony of the UK. They were scheduled for full and complete independence in 1946. And when the law was passed in 1934, it was the Filipino leadership that wanted 10 years, because of $$. Congress would've loved to have given it to them in 1935.

If you want to blame anyone for the US navy not being in Singapore - you can blame FDR. He never proposed a defense treaty to Congress over NEI and Singapore. And never tried to move the fleet there, and dare Congress to disagree. Somehow, despite being POTUS and the Commander in Chief people want to pretend it was the "US Navy" or "MacArthur" or whoever. Wrong. FDR was calling the shots.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 02 Feb 2022 05:24

EwenS wrote:
01 Feb 2022 11:16

The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.
The US and the elected civilian leadership in the Philippines had agreed to, and signed, a treaty in 1936 that committed to a fully independent republic within a decade. At the same time, the Philippine government was well aware that without the US, the islands were too poor to defend themselves, and in 1946, after the experience of 1941-45, the Filipinos were quite happy to retain their military alliance with the US.

Little different in Indochina, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, India, Bangladesh, etc.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 02 Feb 2022 05:34

rcocean wrote:
01 Feb 2022 22:51
EwenS wrote:The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.

Of course, military considerations weren't the sole considerations. US hypocrisy and Anglophobia (especially in the USN) played a large part as well.
Just to introduce some, actual y'know history, in the speculation. The USA did not have a defense treaty with the UK to defend Sinapore or with the Dutch to defend the NEI. The American people in 1941 would've been suprised to learn that they were on the hook to defend either place.

And we didn't "forget" our position in the Philipppines, whatever that means. For some reason people need to be constantly reminded that after 1935, the Philippines were a COMMONWEALTH and were no more a colony of the USA, then Canada was a colony of the UK. They were scheduled for full and complete independence in 1946. And when the law was passed in 1934, it was the Filipino leadership that wanted 10 years, because of $$. Congress would've loved to have given it to them in 1935.
Given the inability of the British to a) defend the Atlantic convoy lanes in 1940-42 absent the USN; b) get British troops to the Far East in 1941 absent the USN; c) sustain their own empire in the South and Southwest Pacific absent the USN, US Army, USMC, and USAAF in 1942; and d) sustain their own small fleet in the Pacific in 1944-45 absent the US, and hence, could not sustain an Allied fleet in the western Pacific (much less the Indian Ocean) in 1941.

There's also the reality that, in event of war with Japan, the US had written off the Western Pacific colonies as early as 1922, for the basic reason that Japan - given its position in the Western Pacific - held all the cards in the theater. Nothing had changed in 1940-41, and pretending otherwise is just that ...

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by Rob Stuart » 05 Feb 2022 22:24

"Not for nothing do you see it being described as Scapa (Flow) with palm trees!"

I'm pretty sure that it was Addu Atoll (Port T) which was described as Scapa Flow with Palm trees, and not Trincomalee.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by Takao » 06 Feb 2022 01:21

Rob Stuart wrote:
05 Feb 2022 22:24
"Not for nothing do you see it being described as Scapa (Flow) with palm trees!"

I'm pretty sure that it was Addu Atoll (Port T) which was described as Scapa Flow with Palm trees, and not Trincomalee.
Seeadler Harbor, Manus Atoll.

Even the British were not "cosmically stupid" to use Trincomalee as a main fleet or refueling base during war with Japan...Beginning construction of Addu Atoll naval base in August 1941.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by Carl Schwamberger » 06 Feb 2022 04:47

daveshoup2MD wrote:
02 Feb 2022 05:34
rcocean wrote:
01 Feb 2022 22:51
EwenS wrote:The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.

Of course, military considerations weren't the sole considerations. US hypocrisy and Anglophobia (especially in the USN) played a large part as well.
Just to introduce some, actual y'know history, in the speculation. The USA did not have a defense treaty with the UK to defend Sinapore or with the Dutch to defend the NEI. The American people in 1941 would've been suprised to learn that they were on the hook to defend either place.

And we didn't "forget" our position in the Philipppines, whatever that means. For some reason people need to be constantly reminded that after 1935, the Philippines were a COMMONWEALTH and were no more a colony of the USA, then Canada was a colony of the UK. They were scheduled for full and complete independence in 1946. And when the law was passed in 1934, it was the Filipino leadership that wanted 10 years, because of $$. Congress would've loved to have given it to them in 1935.
Given the inability of the British to a) defend the Atlantic convoy lanes in 1940-42 absent the USN; b) get British troops to the Far East in 1941 absent the USN; c) sustain their own empire in the South and Southwest Pacific absent the USN, US Army, USMC, and USAAF in 1942; and d) sustain their own small fleet in the Pacific in 1944-45 absent the US, and hence, could not sustain an Allied fleet in the western Pacific (much less the Indian Ocean) in 1941.

There's also the reality that, in event of war with Japan, the US had written off the Western Pacific colonies as early as 1922, for the basic reason that Japan - given its position in the Western Pacific - held all the cards in the theater. Nothing had changed in 1940-41, and pretending otherwise is just that ...
Which leads back to War Plan ORANGE, the only serious developed strategy of the US for a Pacific war. Over the previous 3 decades other strategies had been examined, tested, and discarded. Roosevelt understood the plan & its development very well, having been a Undersecretary of the Navy in WPOs early development and Commander in Chief for a decade during the plans maturity. He was not inclined to toss the one well developed US war plan in the trash can and send near half the US fleet on a extreme tangent because Churchill had been crayoning blue arrows on a map.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 06 Feb 2022 05:08

Carl Schwamberger wrote:
06 Feb 2022 04:47
daveshoup2MD wrote:
02 Feb 2022 05:34
rcocean wrote:
01 Feb 2022 22:51
EwenS wrote:The other issue for the US was that it didn’t want to appear to be propping up colonial regimes by being seen to be defending their Far East territories, conveniently forgetting its own position in the Philippines at that time.

Of course, military considerations weren't the sole considerations. US hypocrisy and Anglophobia (especially in the USN) played a large part as well.
Just to introduce some, actual y'know history, in the speculation. The USA did not have a defense treaty with the UK to defend Sinapore or with the Dutch to defend the NEI. The American people in 1941 would've been suprised to learn that they were on the hook to defend either place.

And we didn't "forget" our position in the Philipppines, whatever that means. For some reason people need to be constantly reminded that after 1935, the Philippines were a COMMONWEALTH and were no more a colony of the USA, then Canada was a colony of the UK. They were scheduled for full and complete independence in 1946. And when the law was passed in 1934, it was the Filipino leadership that wanted 10 years, because of $$. Congress would've loved to have given it to them in 1935.
Given the inability of the British to a) defend the Atlantic convoy lanes in 1940-42 absent the USN; b) get British troops to the Far East in 1941 absent the USN; c) sustain their own empire in the South and Southwest Pacific absent the USN, US Army, USMC, and USAAF in 1942; and d) sustain their own small fleet in the Pacific in 1944-45 absent the US, and hence, could not sustain an Allied fleet in the western Pacific (much less the Indian Ocean) in 1941.

There's also the reality that, in event of war with Japan, the US had written off the Western Pacific colonies as early as 1922, for the basic reason that Japan - given its position in the Western Pacific - held all the cards in the theater. Nothing had changed in 1940-41, and pretending otherwise is just that ...
Which leads back to War Plan ORANGE, the only serious developed strategy of the US for a Pacific war. Over the previous 3 decades other strategies had been examined, tested, and discarded. Roosevelt understood the plan & its development very well, having been a Undersecretary of the Navy in WPOs early development and Commander in Chief for a decade during the plans maturity. He was not inclined to toss the one well developed US war plan in the trash can and send near half the US fleet on a extreme tangent because Churchill had been crayoning blue arrows on a map.
There is that. ;)

Plus, having been (essentially) number 2 in the Navy department during WW I, FDR was well aware of the significance of Germany as an enemy AND what it would take to get a US Army expeditionary force (air, ground, and service) worth the name to the Continent and then Germany.

And, given the undoubted reality that having seen the peace of 1919 go wrong in 1939, he - like every other senior American decision-maker - had no desire to see their grandchildren have to go back to Europe in the 1960s to do it a third time.
Last edited by daveshoup2MD on 06 Feb 2022 19:10, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by Rob Stuart » 06 Feb 2022 14:33

Takao wrote:
06 Feb 2022 01:21
Rob Stuart wrote:
05 Feb 2022 22:24
"Not for nothing do you see it being described as Scapa (Flow) with palm trees!"

I'm pretty sure that it was Addu Atoll (Port T) which was described as Scapa Flow with Palm trees, and not Trincomalee.
Seeadler Harbor, Manus Atoll.

Even the British were not "cosmically stupid" to use Trincomalee as a main fleet or refueling base during war with Japan...Beginning construction of Addu Atoll naval base in August 1941.
Port T was definitely referred to as Scapa Flow with palm trees. Seeadler Harbour may have been called the same thing by different RN sailors, but I don't believe that Trincomalee ever was.

Trincomalee was the main fleet base for the Eastern Fleet/BPF from January 1944 (if not before them) to January 1945. Operations Cockpit, Transom, Councillor, Crimson, Banquet, Light, Millet, Robson and Lentil, all of which were carrier strikes against Japanese targets. See David Hobbs, "The British Pacific Fleet".

Addu Atoll was never meant to be a "base". It was intended to be used as a refueling and replenishing anchorage, not as a base, and Somerville abandoned it in April 1942, as it was even more vulnerable to a Japanese carrier strike than Colombo or Trincomalee, having at the time no airfield (so no land-based fighters) and no AA guns.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by EwenS » 06 Feb 2022 16:43

Well folks a quick Google has turned up published references to all 3 places, Trinco, Addu and Manus being described by sailors as "Scapa with palm trees"!

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by Rob Stuart » 06 Feb 2022 19:59

I've just now googled "Scapa Flow with palm trees" and I'm seeing references to both Addu Atoll and Manus being called that, but not Trincomalee. Could you please post a link or two to the sources you've seen which describe Trinco that way?

TIA,

Rob

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by EwenS » 06 Feb 2022 21:32

Rob
From “Citizen Sailors: The Royal Navy in the Second World War” by Glyn Prysor, bottom of the page.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=wav ... ee&f=false

It is funny sometimes. Different browsers produce different results.

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Re: British naval yard capacity, Far East?

Post by Rob Stuart » 07 Feb 2022 13:29

Ewen,

In the partial view of Prysor's book which is available at the link you provided, I don't see any reference to Trincomalee being called "Scapa Flow with palm trees" by anyone, but I'll take your word for it that it's there. However, I can see that Prysor claims that:

1. The US landing on Guadalcanal took place before the battle of Midway.

2. A substantial portion of the Eastern Fleet had moved to Kilindini before the Japanese attack on Colombo on 5 April 1942. This is false.

3. As well as Cornwall and Dorsetshire, the Japanese sank "several other ships as they tried to escape". Not true. The other ships sunk on 5 April (Tenedos, Hector, Soli) were were at Colombo and were not trying to escape.

4. On 8 April Hermes' fighters "were grounded ashore" on 8 April. In fact, Hermes had no fighters. It had one squadron of Swordfish and nothing else.

5. Hermes was escorted by Vampire and Hollyhock. Hermes was in fact escorted only by Vampire. Hollyhock was escorting a tanker and was several miles from Hermes when it was attacked.

If Prysor is the only source for the suggestion that Trincomalee was called "Scapa Flow with palm trees" then I'm inclined to disregard it. He doesn't seem to be much of an historian. Furthermore, it just doesn't ring true. Scapa Flow was an isolated place with few amenities ashore for the crews of the ships located there. Trincomalee was not Portsmouth or Liverpool in that regard, but it was much better than Scapa Flow, and Colombo, a city of 300,000, was only a few hours away by train. "Scapa Flow with palm trees" is an apt description of Addu Atoll (and probably also for Manus, with which I'm less familiar), but much less so for Trincomalee.

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