'Attack, not defence, was the road to sea power in his [i.e. Suffren's] eyes; and sea power meant control of the issues on land, at least in regions distant from Europe'.
A. T. Mahan. The Influence of Sea Power on History, p. 425.
We must now return briefly to the struggle in the East, which we left at the turn of the year. Compared with the many hard-fought sea and air battles which had punctuated the preceding phase, the first half of 1943 was relatively quiet. The dangerous Japanese thrusts against Midway, against Port Moresby and against the islands which formed the reinforcement links from America to Australia and New Zealand, had all been parried, though at a heavy cost in Allied ships and aircraft. It was natural that a period of recuperation should now be needed, to prepare for the next offensives.
At the Casablanca Conference various decisions affecting the war against Japan had been taken. That with which we here are principally concerned was the decision to mount twin offensives from New Guinea and the Solomons, with the object of breaking through the powerful enemy defences based on New Britain, New Ireland and the other islands of the Bismarck Archipelago, which barred the approaches to the Philippines from the south-east.1 This defensive position was aptly called the 'Bismarck barrier' by the Americans. The key to it lay in Rabaul, with its fine harbour and several adjacent airfields.
The South and South-West Pacific commands, of Admiral Halsey and General MacArthur respectively, were both concerned in the prosecution of this object. In March their naval forces were renamed the 3rd and 7th Fleets, and each of them included an 'Amphibious Force' trained and organised to undertake the new offensive.2 That of the 7th Fleet was building up at Brisbane under Rear-Admiral
D. E. Barbey, while Halsey's amphibious flotillas remained under Rear-Admiral R. K. Turner, who had already gained great experience of that type of work in the Guadalcanal landings.3 His bases were at Noumea in New Caledonia and Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.
Not only was Brisbane the base of the 7th Fleet's Amphibious Force, but a growing flotilla of American submarines was now working from there. During the present phase its strength reached twenty boats. Another flotilla was at Fremantle in Western Australia, with an advanced base in Exmouth Gulf.4 Their hunting ground was mainly in the approaches to the Dutch East Indies. Yet more American submarines were reaching out from Pearl Harbour to the coast of the Japanese mainland, and their individual performances had greatly improved since the early months. The total Japanese merchant shipping losses in this phase was 152 ships of 666,472 tons, of which 105 ships of 479,918 tons were sunk by submarines. The rate of loss was far more than Japan could sustain. For the first time her Government became alarmed at the decline of her mercantile tonnage; yet it was not until the autumn of 1943 that, except in forward areas, an attempt was made to work an ocean convoy system. By then it was too late. By contrast to the heavy blows struck at Japan's sea communications, her own submarines caused us few losses. The Japanese Navy still clung to the idea that the functions of its submarine arm were to make reconnaissances for the main fleet and to ambush the other side's major warships. It is interesting to remark that we held to very similar ideas regarding the functions of our submarines for the first eighteen months of the war, and had been markedly reluctant to free them for attack on merchant shipping, even after the enemy had adopted unrestricted submarine warfare.5 Though Japanese submarines had scored some outstanding successes in the preceding phases, notably by sinking the Yorktown and Wasp and damaging the Saratoga and North Carolina, they were now doing us little harm; and twelve of their number were sunk within the South and South-West Pacific Commands between the start of the Solomons campaign in August 1942 and the end of the present phase.6
The American 3rd and 7th Fleets were, of course, divided into Task Groups and Task Forces to undertake particular operations, as each need arose. The naval forces directly under General MacArthur were however still very slender. Rear-Admiral V. A. C. Crutchley, V.C., had the cruisers Australia and Hobart (R.A.N.) and
the Phoenix (U.S.N.) under his command; but that was all there was to supply a 'battle force'.7 Moreover here as in every other theatre there was a chronic shortage of flotilla vessels, many of which had to be detached at this time to escort convoys up and down the east coast of Australia, where Japanese U-boats had made their presence felt by sinking several Allied ships.
Halsey's 3rd Fleet was a very different affair from his neighbour's 7th Fleet. True he was still weak in fleet carriers, since only the Saratoga and Enterprise had survived the earlier clashes, and none of the new Essex class had yet commissioned for service8; but in addition to the Saratoga's and Enterprise's Task Forces he had two others composed of battleships and escort carriers (the latter brought in to mitigate the weakness in large carriers), and two more comprising good modern cruisers and destroyers. These latter forces had been specially formed to work in 'the Slot' north of Guadalcanal, and were commanded by Rear-Admirals W. L. Ainsworth and A. S. Merrill, U.S.N. We shall meet them again later in our story. The ships of the New Zealand Navy (the cruisers Achilles and Leander, and a number of smaller vessels) were placed under Admiral Halsey, and a number of R.N.Z.A.F. squadrons also came up to join the South Pacific Air Command of Vice-Admiral A. W. Fitch, U.S.N. It was at the urgent request of the Americans, made at a time when they were in dire straits for fast aircraft carriers, that the British Victorious (Captain L. D. Mackintosh) was sent to the Pacific.9 She reached Pearl Harbor on the 4th of March, and at once started training her ship's company and aircrews in American methods. In April she spent several periods exercising at sea off Pearl Harbor, and on the 8th of May sailed for Noumea with the battleship North Carolina to relieve the Enterprise, whose bomb damage had not yet been properly repaired, in Admiral Halsey's 3rd Fleet. The Saratoga and Victorious exercised together from Noumea, and Captain Mackintosh soon reported that his ship had found no difficulty in settling down with her new companion; they were perfectly capable of operating each other's aircraft. These two ships remained the only fleet carriers in the South Pacific until the next phase, when the centre of gravity of the war against Japan moved from the south to the central Pacific, and the Americans formed the famous 'Fast Carrier Striking Force'.
It was to be expected that during this period of weakness in air striking power Halsey would remain on the defensive, for there
were no replacements for the last two Allied carriers. But Yamamoto, who again possessed four carriers (Zuikaku, Zuiho, Junyo and Hiyo), might well have seized the chance to avenge Midway, by provoking another battle with Halsey. As it turned out he chose a totally different strategy, as will be told later, and threw away his temporary advantage. It thus happened that the Victorious, to her great disappointment, never got the chance to show her mettle in a great carrier air battle like Coral Sea, Midway, the Eastern Solomons or Santa Cruz10; but her presence in a predominantly American fleet at a critical time at least showed that, in spite of its overriding responsibilities in connection with the defeat of Germany, the British Government were anxious to contribute to the Pacific struggle.
The Japanese base at Buna on the north coast of Papua was captured on the 2nd of January, and before the end of that month the Australians and Americans had cleared the Papuan peninsula of enemies. An advance base was then immediately set up at Milne Bay, on the tip of the peninsula, for use by the 7th Fleet's amphibious force.11 The Japanese, who realised the threat developing towards Rabaul, were meanwhile reinforcing Lae and Salamaua on the north coast of New Guinea and extending their hold on that island to the westward. It will be seen how important to both sides were these hitherto practically unknown tropical harbours, and their adjacent air strips. Possession by one side or the other could, and often did, decide the outcome of the struggle for maritime control over vast areas. It is also in the early months of 1943 that we find in American planning circles the first thoughts regarding development of the 'leap-frogging' strategy, leaving enemy strong points untouched far in the rear of their thrusts. It was to become a marked feature of later phases. Our Allies realised, however, that, as long as a substantial proportion of their strength was devoted to the combined operations in North Africa and the Mediterranean, they must await the completion of new flotillas of landing ships and craft, and the training of many more men, before they could take such bold measures in the Pacific.
In the Solomons, the Japanese decision of the 4th of January to evacuate Guadalcanal did not slow down the tempo of the struggle. More American reinforcements were flung in early in the year without loss, while a diversionary night bombardment of the airfield and installations at Munda in New Georgia was carried out by a cruiser and destroyer task force.12 It was during the withdrawal from this operation that the cruiser Achilles (R.N.Z.N.) was hit by a bomb, and had to be sent back to England to be fitted with a new turret.
The need to send ships whose equipment had been damaged in battle half way round the world for repairs was one of the inescapable difficulties of operating British ships in waters where, since the loss of Singapore, we had no major base.
While the Americans' maritime control was thus sufficient to enable reinforcements to be landed safely on Guadalcanal from surface ships, the Japanese were forced to have recourse to supplying their garrison by submarine. In January as many as twenty were employed on such work, and it was one of them, the large boat I-1 of 1,955 tons, which was caught off Guadalcanal on the 29th by the little 600-ton minesweeping trawlers Kiwi and Moa of the New Zealand Navy. The submarine was fought, rammed, harried and finally driven ashore and destroyed by her diminutive adversaries.
The 'Tokyo Expresses' run down 'the Slot' by Japanese destroyers carrying reinforcements were now few and far between; but Japanese aircraft were still ranging over the approaches to the American bases in the Solomons, and they caused trouble to any ship caught without fighter cover. On the same day that the New Zealand trawlers scored their success, the heavy cruiser Chicago was damaged in a dusk torpedo-bomber attack off Rennell Island.13 Next day, the 30th, Japanese aircraft sank her. She had been the first big American warship to join the hard-pressed Anzac squadron of the early days, and Anzac sailors were very sad to see her go.14
The Japanese were successful in disguising and concealing their intention to evacuate Guadalcanal. When, on the 1st of February, numerous destroyers were sighted coming down 'the Slot' it was thought that they must be bringing fresh troops and supplies. In fact they had been sent to embark the first elements of the Japanese garrison, which purpose they accomplished with only slight loss. On the nights of the 4th and 7th two more evacuations were successfully carried out, and by the morning of the 8th the Americans were surprised to find they no longer had any enemies facing them. One must give the Japanese credit for the skill with which they carried out these withdrawals, in waters where the greater degree of maritime control certainly rested with the Allies. Though it was disappointing that a garrison of some 12,000 men should be allowed to slip away to fight another day, the conquest of Guadalcanal was a valuable moral as well as strategic success to the Allies. As to the former, it had shown that well-trained and well-equipped men of all Allied services could fight and beat the Japanese on their own ground; its strategic significance was that the enemy thereby lost the initiative throughout the whole south Pacific theatre, and the threat to the main Allied bases further south was finally eliminated.
Though they had accepted defeat on Guadalcanal, the Japanese had no intention of abandoning the whole Solomons chain. In the vital matter of airfields, they were favourably placed to continue the struggle, for there were four near Rabaul, and five more had recently been constructed on various islands reaching down the Solomons as far as New Georgia. Their central strategic position, buttressed by the defences of the Bismarck archipelago, was plainly a powerful one; and the reinforcement routes from the Marshall Islands and from the Japanese homeland, though long, were reasonably adequate. Lastly they had some zoo aircraft in the theatre, and Yamamoto, though short of aircraft carriers and destroyers, still possessed a powerful fleet in the background. Though there were about 300 American aircraft of all types available in the Solomons theatre, they still only had Guadalcanal to serve as a forward base; and the Allies were, as has already been mentioned, weak in carrier air striking power. The Japanese belief that they could successfully defend the Bismarck barrier was certainly reasonable. What they could hardly have known was that the new types of American aircraft now coming into service were greatly superior to their own, and that American pilots were far better trained than formerly. It was the combination of stronger numbers and superior quality in the air which was to prove decisive. But the Japanese, like Hitler, made the mistake of frittering away much of their strength by trying to hold on everywhere; and their intention to do so was soon revealed by the construction of airfields at Munda in New Georgia and at Vila on Kolombangara Island only about 170 miles north-west of Guadalcanal.15 These soon became favourite targets for bombing by the Americans and for bombardment by their cruisers and destroyers; but a coral air strip is easily repaired, and the damage done was never proportionate to the enormous quantities of explosive expended in such operations.
On the 29th of March the American Chiefs of Staff issued a new directive ordering MacArthur to clear eastern New Guinea and the Solomons of enemies, and to attack New Britain. Admiral Halsey was to work under the South-West Pacific Commander's strategic direction. Assaults on New Georgia and the Trobriand Islands off Papua were originally planned for mid-May, but had to be postponed several times. They did not finally take place until the next phase. Meanwhile on the 20th of February a force of 9,000 men was embarked to assault the small Russell Islands, just north of Guadalcanal.16 On landing they encountered no opposition, and the operation was distinguished chiefly for the defeat by gunfire of a heavy night torpedo-bomber attack on the convoy on its way north on the
17th. It was one of the first occasions on which the new 'radio proximity' fuze was used against enemy aircraft, and it immediately proved its value.
It is worth making a brief digression into the technical field to give the story of this new development. British scientists and technicians had been working on the proximity anti-aircraft fuze since the early days of the war, and by 1940 they had achieved considerable progress. It was, however, far from being ready for production when the threat of invasion and the tense conditions of the war in the west made it very difficult for us to give the development the high priority it deserved. As with the results of our research into short-wave radar, the whole of the data and knowledge we had acquired regarding proximity fuzes was therefore given to the Americans. They devoted immense energy and effort to the problem of its design and production, and by early 1943 the fuzes were streaming off their production lines. To explain it briefly, the fuze consisted of a miniature radar set, powered by its own batteries, carried in the nose of each anti-aircraft shell. The signals sent out by this set were reflected off a solid object such as an aircraft, and when the interval between despatch of an outward signal and receipt of a reflected signal became very short (i.e. when the shell was passing close to the aircraft), the fuze detonated the shell. The principle was a fairly simple one, but the design was a remarkable achievement, and the mass production of so delicate and intricate a mechanism was one of the many miracles accomplished by American factories. The fuze was much superior to the previously used clockwork time fuzes, each of which had to be specially set before firing. We benefited later from this technical accomplishment, because large allocations of the fuzes were made to assist us to defeat the V-1 flying bomb, and it quickly proved itself the ideal counter to this new weapon. Furthermore British warships received fuzes specially made in America at a priority second only to meeting the U.S. Navy's own requirements. Britain and the Royal Navy owe a deep debt to the American Navy Department and to the Office of Scientific Research and Development for the speed and generosity with which our pressing needs for proximity fuzes were met.
In combined operations the need to plan so that the attackers will have a substantial local superiority over the defenders is undeniable. The degree of numerical superiority required has been variously assessed, from as low as two to one to as high as four to one. It is certain that no rigid rules can be laid down, for the success of each assault depends on a great many factors besides the numbers of fighting men who face each other at 'H hour'. Thus in the invasion of
the Admiralty Islands in 1944 the Japanese defenders greatly outnumbered the Allied attackers; yet the latter finally, if narrowly, prevailed. On the other hand in the assault on Munda in 1943 and on Tarawa in 1944 the attackers held a three to one superiority, and it was barely sufficient. While we may accept that he would be a rash Commander of an assault from the sea who did not try to achieve numerical superiority over the defenders, the great strength deployed by the Americans against the Russell Islands, and the quantity of their shipping locked up in Pacific bases without any very apparent effort to ensure that it was profitably employed, provide an opportunity to review the conflicts of strategy and of material allocations which developed at this time. Enough has been written in this volume to indicate the anxieties of the British Government at the start of the fourth year of the war, and how serious was our situation at that time. Shipping losses had been very high in 1942, and in no small measure had they been due to the Americans' slowness in organising the defences on their eastern seaboard.17 We had suffered crushing defeats in the Far East, and were barely holding on in the Indian Ocean. Imports had fallen drastically, and rationing was tighter than ever before. In the autumn the heavy commitments of Operation 'TORCH' had to be met; and they were. While Britain, though no less stubbornly determined to see the matter through to victory than she had been in 1940, was thus very hard-pressed on the oceans, and had been sorely battered in her cities and in every theatre where her forces were engaged, it could not escape her leaders' attention that great quantities of supplies were being sent to Pacific bases, and that shipping was being used by our Allies in a manner which to our austerity-bound island seemed extravagant. In the relevant volume of the British Civil Histories the responsibility for this state of affairs has been placed mainly on the American Chiefs of Staff, and on the lack of any civilian control over the natural rapacity of all fighting services for ships18; and the present writer's experiences in the Pacific certainly tend to support the view that shipping was often used there in a very uneconomical manner. At the same time, and in fairness to our Ally, it should be mentioned that, because of the vast distances in that theatre, needs had to be anticipated months in advance, and regardless of the fact that they might have completely altered before the ships and landing craft, the men and the stores, had reached their destinations. Furthermore big combined operations had to be mounted from island bases where there had originally been nothing whatsoever of military value. Everything had to be hauled there from the west coast of America, or
from Australia and New Zealand. Conditions in the Pacific thus differed considerably from those which prevailed in Africa and Europe. When in 1942 the time came to take the offensive against the Japanese, heavy losses of landing craft and of equipment, of which other theatres also stood in urgent need, were inevitable; for the assaults often had to be made over reefs and through heavy surf, and ships had generally to lie in exposed anchorages. Salvage and repair work were therefore both hazardous and difficult. As the momentum of the American offensive gathered, more and more ships, landing craft and stores were needed; and it is incontrovertible that in several critical instances the Americans found themselves short of small craft, or of essential equipment. Moreover in attempting to put the matter into fair perspective it is right to mention that the economical use of shipping was not aided by the dilatory work and repeated strikes by dockers in Antipodean ports. These, to the shame of the British race, often forced American combat troops to load their own ships, which was hardly the best preliminary to entering some of the most arduous fighting of the whole war. Finally, and in spite of the fact that certain authoritative American post-war publications have admitted that in some respects their supply organisation for the Pacific was unduly lavish19, it should be recorded that every British ship that served in the theatre was allowed to draw freely on the U.S. Navy's stores, and to make the fullest use of its highly efficient maintenance and repair staff; and when the British Pacific Fleet arrived to take part in the final operations against Japan the Americans went far beyond the letter of their undertaking to assist with the supply and servicing of our ships.20
It is of course impossible to prove that, had shipping been more economically employed in the Pacific, the Allied victory would have come sooner; but it is certain that the apparently wasteful use of tonnage in that theatre caused grave concern in British circles at the time. At Casablanca it was decided that an offensive would be started in 1943 to drive the Japanese out of Burma. This major undertaking required not only great strengthening of our forces in India, which could only be done by sea, but a numerous and well-trained flotilla to work on the long and intricate Burma coast. At the Quebec Conference in August 1943 the British representatives made
it plain that the Burma offensive could not be undertaken that year. We were at full stretch to meet the requirements of the invasion of Sicily, to prepare for the subsequent advance up Italy and for the invasion of northern Europe. Ships and landing craft, and especially the latter, were the controlling factor in the launching of every one of these combined operations. Moreover our American Allies often urged us to launch offensives (such as the much-discussed 1942 cross-Channel operation 'Sledgehammer') earlier than we believed possible21; and one reason why we were unable to do so was that many of the vessels needed were, so we felt, tied up in the Pacific and not being used to the best advantage.
Just after the Americans had used the amphibious steam hammer already mentioned to pulverise the small coral nut of the Russell Islands, the Japanese embarked somewhat similar strength (6,900 men) at Rabaul to reinforce their garrison at Lae.22 The expedition, of eight transports and a like number of destroyers, sailed on the 28th of February, unaware that very strong air forces had been sent to the Allied bases in Papua. Over 200 bombers and about 130 fighters were available, and the former were supplied with a five-second-delay bomb fuse which enabled a new technique of very low attack, aptly called 'skip bombing', to be employed. The Japanese convoy was sighted on the afternoon of the 1st of March. During the next two days it was completely destroyed, and only four destroyers of the escort escaped. Over 3,000 Japanese soldiers were lost. This Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a substantial victory, and it was won entirely by the U.S. Army Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force. It is pleasant to record that the latter employed the Beaufighters which, for all our acute needs for them at home and in the Mediterranean23, had been sent out to Australia on the British Government's orders.
Meanwhile in the southern Solomons the enemy's reinforcement of New Georgia and his extension of the air bases at Munda and Vila had attracted American attention once again, and the two cruiser-destroyer task forces of Rear-Admirals Ainsworth and Merrill mentioned earlier came into play. On the night of the 6th-7th of March the latter took his ships into Kula Gulf, sank two Japanese destroyers which he fortuitously encountered, and then carried out a heavy bombardment of Vila.24 The bombardment was spectacular, but its moral results were probably greater than the material damage
it inflicted. To make the approaches to Vila still more hazardous the Americans laid several minefields at this time. Japanese sweeping technique was poor, and two of their destroyers fell victims to mines in May. The bombing and bombardment of the New Georgia bases and the laying of mines off their entrances continued to the end of this phase; but in April the Japanese attempts to reinforce their garrison at Vila were on the whole successful.
Late in March Yamamoto himself arrived at Rabaul to direct a new offensive against the Allied bases in the southern Solomons and Papua. Over 150 aircraft from Nagumo's four fleet carriers came ashore to the airfields of New Britain and the northern Solomons, to reinforce the substantial numbers already there. In all Yamamoto assembled over 300 torpedo-bombers, dive-bombers and fighters. This concentration did not escape the notice of Allied reconnaissance planes, and the Americans prepared to meet the expected onslaught.
On the 7th of April nearly fourscore dive-bombers covered by more than a hundred fighters, most of which came from the Japanese aircraft carriers, attacked the anchorages off Guadalcanal and Tulagi. The fighters from Henderson Field went up to meet them, and fought fierce battles with the Japanese fighters. Although many of the dive-bombers got through untouched, they only sank a tanker, a destroyer, and the trawler Moa (R.N.Z.N.) for the loss of twenty-one Japanese aircraft. It was a poor result from the enemy's point of view. Indeed the use of his fleet's main striking power to attack a heavily defended base, and moreover one in which no major warships were stationed, was a bad strategical error on Yamamoto's part. He would have done far better to preserve these irreplaceable aircrews against the day of another major clash with the Allied carriers, which might have affected the whole course of the war. Five days later he repeated the mistake by attacking Port Moresby in similar strength. Not a ship was sunk. Lastly, on the 14th, it was the turn of Milne Bay. Good warning enabled the harbour to be cleared of most of the shipping. Two merchant ships, one of them British and the other Dutch, were sunk by dive-bombers; but that was all. Then the Japanese carrier planes, whose claims of damage inflicted bore no relation to the truth, were sent back to their ships. Yamamoto believed the attacks had restored the balance in his favour; but no Commander-in-Chief was ever more mistaken. The whole offensive had made very little difference to Allied strength, and none to Allied intentions. Indeed this operation now seems to have been a good example of the misuse of air power; and it made no difference at all to the defence of the Bismarck barrier.
Four days after the final air attack on Milne Bay Yamamoto and many of his staff embarked in two bombers at Rabaul to visit an air base in the south of Bougainville Island. They had a powerful
fighter escort; but American intelligence had discovered the programme for the visit, and a strong force of fighters was sent up from Guadalcanal. Both bombers were destroyed, and most of the passengers were killed. It cannot be doubted that the elimination of Yamamoto, who held a position in the Japanese Navy comparable to that of no other Admiral since Togo, was a severe blow to that service's morale. He was succeeded by Admiral Koga.
While the struggle in the steaming, foetid heat of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea was thus developing favourably for the Allies, and forces were poised for the assaults on New Georgia and Rabaul, far away in the foggy and rock-bound Aleutian Islands events had also taken a favourable turn. When the Japanese landed on Kiska and Attu in June 1942, they had no thought of striking at Alaska or anywhere else on the American Continent.25 Their purpose merely was to deny to the Americans the use of the Aleutian chain as stepping stones to northern Japan. In fact our Allies never considered striking in that direction, chiefly because they were well aware that the weather conditions in those high latitudes made it quite impossible to mount a large-scale combined operation there. None the less they regarded enemy occupation of two of the islands as a matter not to be tolerated, for political rather than military reasons; but their pre-occupation in the south Pacific prevented anything much being done about it in 1942, except to keep watch on the Japanese garrisons. On the 26th of March 1943 a small American force of cruisers and destroyers encountered a superior Japanese expedition bound for Kiska. In the battle that followed neither side lost any ships, but the Japanese transports were turned back.26 The encounter made the Japanese realise that to reinforce their garrisons by transports was too risky, and thenceforth they employed only destroyers and submarines. They thus still further reduced the number of those valuable vessels which they could employ on profitable operations. In May the Americans recaptured Attu, and prepared for a full scale attack on the main garrison on Kiska. Late in July, however, the Japanese removed their troops unbeknown to the Americans; and when the latter attacked the place in the following month they found that the birds had flown some time previously. It is true that the Combined Chiefs of Staff had, at Casablanca, agreed on the intention 'to make the Aleutians as secure as may be'. But it none the less now seems that possession by the enemy of some of those remote islands was not doing the Americans any military harm; and that to let the enemy waste his resources by occupying them was more profitable to the Allied cause than to expend our own in recovering them. Their ultimate fate would be settled when command of the
Pacific was decided, and meanwhile they might well have been left to 'wither on the vine'.
In the Indian Ocean this phase was distinguished only by the further running down of Admiral Somerville's fleet, to a point at which any offensive operations were out of the question. His last aircraft carrier, the Illustrious, was brought home in January for refit and modernisation, preparatory to her further employment in the Mediterranean. The Valiant soon followed her, and in April the Warspite, the cruiser Mauritius and several destroyers were taken away as well. The few ships left were barely adequate to meet the command's escort commitments. This major redistribution of our forces was dictated by the need to prepare for the invasion of Europe, and was made possible by the absorption of the Japanese in the South Pacific and by the losses they had suffered at the hands of the United States Navy. Frustrating though it was to those who had been trying to build up sufficient strength in the Indian Ocean to take the offensive, the soundness of the moves cannot be questioned. There was no longer any real likelihood of a repetition of the Japanese raids of April 1942, and the first assaults on Hitler's European fortress simply had to succeed. The sacrifices of the Eastern Fleet at least contributed substantially to the latter purpose, as will be told in our final volume.
Meanwhile the development of the Indian Ocean bases, and especially those at Colombo and Trincomalee, was proceeding steadily. Because the danger in the Indian Ocean was now less pressing, it had been decided that Addu Atoll should only be used as an occasional fuelling base. Somerville warmly welcomed this decision, since an enormous amount of work was needed to make it a satisfactory fleet base; and even if the work were undertaken the bad climate and the total lack of amenities would still be severe handicaps. 'As a boy', wrote Admiral Somerville to the First Sea Lord, 'I always had a hankering after coral atolls; anyone can have the things now so far as I am concerned'. But with the steady improvement of the bases at Colombo and Trincomalee, and the construction of more airfields in Ceylon and southern India, it was plain that, when the time came once more to build up our strength in those waters, the offensive possibilities would be such as Somerville had never so far been granted. Until that time came the Eastern Fleet could only continue to keep the sea routes open, ensuring that the rising tide of supplies and equipment reached the Middle East, India and Ceylon in safety.
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