HMS Aster (K 188)
Corvette of the Flower class
|Navy||The Royal Navy|
|Built by||Harland & Wolff Ltd. (Belfast, Northern Ireland)|
|Ordered||8 Apr 1940|
|Laid down||15 Oct 1940|
|Launched||12 Feb 1941|
|Commissioned||9 Apr 1941|
Sold and scrapped at Bo'ness starting on 29 May 1946.
Commands listed for HMS Aster (K 188)
Please note that we're still working on this section.
|1||Lt.Cdr. Eric Hewitt, RD, RNR||26 Feb 1941||Dec 1941|
|2||Lt. Walter Laurcence Smith, RNR||Dec 1941||Aug 1944|
|3||T/Lt. Frank Fitzpatrick Johnson, RANVR||Aug 1944||early 1946|
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Notable events involving Aster include:
22 May 1941
At 1540 hours, in position 44°04'N, 22°26'W, HrMs O 24 (Lt.Cdr. O. de Booy, RNN) left convoy HG 62 escorted by the British corvette HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR). O 24 was to join convoy OG 62. (1)
31 May 1941
Convoy WS 8X.
This convoy departed the Clyde on 31 May 1941 and arrived off Aden on 11 July 1941 after which the convoy was dispersed and the ship proceeded to Aden independently.
The convoy departed from the Clyde around 2230B/31 and was made up of the following transports; Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Port Wyndham (British, 11005 GRT, built 1935) and Waiwera (British, 12435 GRT, built 1934).
On departure from the Clyde the convoy was escorted by the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, RN), heavy cruiser HMS Norfolk (Capt. A.J.L. Phillips, RN), the light cruiser HMS Neptune (Capt. R.C. O'Conor, RN) and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Esperance Bay (Capt.(Retd.) G.S. Holden, RN).
Around 0700B/1, the A/S escort joined the convoy. This was made up of the destroyers HMS Legion (Cdr. R.F. Jessel, RN), Piorun (Cdr. E.J.S. Plawski), HMCS Saguenay (Lt. P.E. Haddon, RCN), HMS Wivern (Cdr. M.D.C. Meyrick, RN), HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. R.L.S. Gaisford, RN), HMS Brighton (Cdr.(Retd.) C.W.V.T.S. Lepper, RN), HMS St. Marys (Lt. K.H.J.L. Phibbs, RN) and HMS Sherwood (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN).
Around 1445B/2, ORP Piorun obtained an A/S contact in position 53°30'N, 16°46'W at a range of 1200 yards. She immediately attacked with depth charges. A total of 18 depth charges was dropped in four attack runs after which the contact was lost and Piorun rejoined the convoy around an hour later.
Around 0700B/3, in position 50°22'N, 19°55'E, HMS Wivern, HMS Wild Swan and HMS Vansittart were detached to Gibraltar.
Around 0900B/3, in position 49°57'N, 20°05'E, HMS St. Marys and HMS Brighton were detached to return to the U.K.
Around 1200B/3, in position 49°20'N, 20°30'W, HMS Esperance Bay was detached to search for enemy supply vessels operating in the North Atlantic.
Around 1500B/3, in position 48°40'N, 20°59'E, HMS Legion was detached to make rendezvous with a transport.
Around 1845B/3, HMCS Sauguenay parted company to proceed to Canada.
Around 2000B/3, in position 46°50'N, 22°29'E, HMS Sherwood and ORP Piorun parted company to return to the U.K.
At 1825B/4, in position 42°25'N, 23°39'E, HMS Neptune was detached to intercept a vessel reported by the Esperance Bay as well as aircraft from HMS Victorious.
Around 2100B/4, HMS Victorious was also detached to aid in the search of this suspected enemy supply vessel.
Around 2100B/5, HMS Victorious and HMS Neptune rejoined the convoy. The enemy vessel had been intercepted but had been scuttled by her crew and salvage was not possible. HMS Neptune had picked up the German crew.
Around 0100A/7, HMS Victorious and HMS Neptune parted company. They had been ordered to proceed to Gibraltar.
Around 1400Z/9, the destroyer HMS Velox (Lt.Cdr. E.G. Roper, DSC, RN) joined the convoy escort.
The corvette HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR) was to have joined the convoy coming from Bathurst. She had arrived at Bathurst late and she did not manage to join the convoy.
The convoy arrived at Freetown on 11 June.
The convoy departed Freetown on 15 June 1941 escorted by HMS Neptune.
The convoy arrived at Capetown on 24 June 1941 after which HMS Neptune proceeded to Simonstown.
The convoy departed Capetown on 28 June 1941 still escorted by HMS Neptune.
The convoy arrived at Kilindini on 6 July 1941. It departed later the same day for Aden.
The convoy was dispersed on 11 July 1941. HMS Neptune then proceeded to Aden arriving later the same day. (2)
4 Oct 1941
The aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN) departed Freetown for Gibraltar. She was escorted by the light cruiser HMS Dunedin (Capt. R.S. Lovatt, RN) and the corvettes HMS Armeria (T/Lt. H.N. Russell, DSC, RNR), HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR).
The Free French minesweeper / sloop Commandant Duboc also remained near HMS Eagle during the passage to Gibraltar. She was however not in company all the time.
Around 1630N/6, HMS Aster parted company.
Around 1850N/6, HMS Armeria parted company.
Around 0945N/7, the destroyer HMS Wild Swan (Lt.Cdr. C.E.L. Sclater, RN) joined.
Around 1235N/7, HMS Dunedin parted company.
Around 1135N/8, the destroyer HMS Vimy (Lt.Cdr. H.G.D. de Chair, RN) joined.
Around 1210N/8, the escort destroyer HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. J.D. Hayes, RN) joined.
Around 1800N/8, HMS Vimy parted company.
Around 0300N/9, HMS Wild Swan was detached to fuel at Las Palmas.
Around 1200Z/10, HMS Wild Swan rejoined.
HMS Eagle, HMS Wild Swan and HMS Croome arrived at Gibraltar around 0830Z/11. (3)
15 Oct 1941
Convoy SL 90
This convoy departed Freetown on 15 October 1941 for Liverpool where it arrived on 6 November 1941.
The convoy was made up of the following merchant vessels; Abosso (11330 GRT, built 1935), Alphacca (Dutch, 5759 GRT, built 1928), City of Rangoon (6635 GRT, built 1914), Dahomian (5277 GRT, built 1929), Dalhanna (5571 GRT, built 1930), Director (5107 GRT, built 1926), Empire Success (5988 GRT, built 1921), Kalewa (4389 GRT, built 1940), Katha (4357 GRT, built 1938), Kattegat (Norwegian, 4245 GRT, built 1936), King Edwin (4536 GRT, built 1927), Kiruna (Swedish, 5484 GRT, built 1921), Kohistan (5884 GRT, built 1930), Langleetarn (4908 GRT, built 1929), Lieutenant St. Loubert Bie (6126 GRT, built 1911), Mafuta (Belgian, tanker, 6322 GRT, built 1920), Martaban (4161 GRT, built 1934), Moanda (Belgian, 4621 GRT, built 1937), Stad Haarlem (Dutch, 4518 GRT, built 1929), Temple Yard (5205 GRT, built 1937) and Warfield (6070 GRT, built 1917).
Escort was initially provided by the destroyers HMS Brilliant (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Poe, RN) (15-18 October), HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. R.L.S. Gaisford, RN) (15-20 October), HMS Gurkha (Cdr. C.N. Lentaigne, RN) (15-22 October), HMS HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. J. Houtsmuller, RNN) (15-22 October), corvettes HMS Armeria (T/Lt. H.N. Russell, DSC, RNR) (15-20 October), HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR) (15-18 October), HMS Clover (Lt.Cdr. F.A. Shaw, RNR) (15-18 October), HMS Crocus (Lt.Cdr. E. Wheeler, RNR) (15-18 October), HMS Cyclamen (Lt.Cdr. H.N. Lawson, RNR) (15-18 October).
HMS Gurkha and HrMs Isaac Sweers both parted company with the convoy on 17 October to fuel at Barhurst. They rejoined the convoy on the 18th but left on the 22nd and then proceeded to Gibraltar where they arrived later the same day.
On 18 October three sloops joined, these were; HMS Folkestone (A/Cdr. D.E.G. Wemyss, RN) (18 October – 6 November), HMS Londonderry (Cdr. J.S. Dalison, RN) (18 – 29 October) and HMS Weston (Cdr.(Retd.) J.G. Sutton, RN) (18 October – 6 November).
No ships were lost from this convoy.
27 Oct 1941
HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. A.N.G. Campbell, RN) departed Freetown for a few days of exercises together with the destroyer HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. R.L.S. Gaisford, RN), the corvettes HMS Armeria (T/Lt. H.N. Russell, RNR), HMS Cyclamen (Lt. H.N. Lawson, RNR), HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR), the A/S trawlers HMS Fandango (Lt. J.A.T. Maishman, RNR), HMS Morris Dance (Lt. A. Bruce, RCNVR) and several ML's. (4)
18 Nov 1941
HMS Severn (Lt.Cdr. A.N.G. Campbell, RN) conducted A/S exercises off Freetown together with HMS Lavender (Lt.Cdr. J. Whayman, RNR), HMS Aster (Lt.Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR), HMS Nigella (T/Lt. L.J. Simpson, RNR) and HMS Crocus (Lt.Cdr. E. Wheeler, RD, RNR). (5)
28 Nov 1941
Convoy WS 12Z.
[Part from the Freetown to Durban.]
This convoy departed Freetown on 28 November 1941 and arrived at Durban on 18 December 1941.
The convoy was made up of the following troopships / transports; Abbekerk (Dutch, 7906 GRT, built 1939), Adrastus (British, 7905 GRT, built 1923), Aorangi (British, 17491 GRT, built 1924), Arundel Castle (British, 19118 GRT, built 1921), Capetown Castle (British, 27002 GRT, built 1938), Deucalion (British, 7516 GRT, built 1930), Duchess of Bedford (British, 20123 GRT, built 1928), Empire Star (British, 13479 GRT, built 1935), Empress of Asia (British, 16909 GRT, built 1913), Empress of Japan (British, 26032 GRT, built 1930), Mataroa (British, 12390 GRT, built 1922), Monarch of Bermuda (British, 22424 GRT, built 1931), Narkunda (British, 16632 GRT, built 1920), Orduna (British, 15507 GRT, built 1914), Rimutaka (British, 16576 GRT, built 1923) and Sussex (British, 11062 GRT, built 1937).
On departure from Freetown the convoy was escorted by the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), escort destroyers HMS Dulverton (Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN) and HMS Southwold (Cdr. C.T. Jellicoe, DSC, RN), sloop HMS Falmouth (Cdr. U.H.R. James, RN) and the corvettes HMS Hollyhock (Lt. T.E. Davies, OBE, RNR) and HMS Verbena (Lt.Cdr. D.A. Rayner, DSC, RNVR).
The convoy was to proceed to Durban via Porte Noire.
In the afternoon of 2 December 1941, HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Dulverton and HMS Southwold left the convoy to proceed ahead to Porte Noire where they arrived in the morning of 5 December and then took on board fuel. They departed again in the evening to rejoin the convoy which they did at 0600/6.
HMS Falmouth, HMS Hollyhock and HMS Verbena then proceeded to Porte Noire to fuel. They rejoined the convoy at 0630/7.
At 0700/14, while in approximate position 36°00'S, 17°00'E, HMS Dulverton and HMS Southwold detached to refuel at Simonstown. At 1400/15, while in approximate position 37°00'S, 23°00'E, the convoy was joined by the corvettes HMS Aster (Lt. W.L. Smith, RNR) and HMS Marguerite (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Blundell, RNR) from Simonstown. Half an hour later HMS Hollyhock and HMS Verbena were then detached to Simonstown.
At 0001/18 HMS Royal Sovereign and HMS Milford were detached and proceeded ahead of the convoy to Durban where they arrived at 0600 hours the same day.
The remainder of the convoy arrived later the same day.
22 Mar 1942
HMS Truant (Lt.Cdr. E.F. Balston, DSO, RN) carries out exercises off Colombo together with HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN), HMS Shoreham (Cdr. G.P. Claridge, RN) and HMS Aster (Lt. W.L. Smith, RNR). (6)
30 Jul 1942
Diversionary operation in the Bay of Bengal.
The object of this diversionary operation in which landings on the Andaman Islands simulated was to distract Japanese naval forces in conjunction with American operations in the Solomons.
To simulate landing forces three convoys were to leave India and Ceylon. These were; ' Force V ', sailing from Vizagapatam. Tansports Blackheath (British, 4637 GRT, built 1936), Cranfield (British, 5332 GRT, built 1919) and Mahout (British, 7921 GRT, built 1925). These ships were escorted by the sloop HMIS Jumna (Cdr. J.E.N. Coope, RIN, Senior Officer) and the destroyer HMS Scout (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) H. Lambton, RN).
' Force M ', sailing from Madras Transports Clan McIver (British, 4606 GRT, built 1921), Custodian (British, 5881 GRT, built 1928), Hoperange (British, 5177 GRT, built 1939), Tasmania (British, 6405 GRT, built 1935) and Yuen Sang (British, 3229 GRT, built 1923). These ships were escorted by the fast minelayer HMS Manxman (Capt. R.K. Dickson, RN, Senior Officer), corvette HMS Aster (Lt. W.L. Smith, RNR) and patrol vessel HMIS Sonavati (T/A/Lt.Cdr. C.F. Smith, RINR).
' Force T ', sailing from Trincomalee Transport (RAF Tender) Shengking (British, 2999 GRT, built 1931) and the tankers Marit Maersk (Danish, 1894 GRT, built 1938), Appleleaf (Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 5892 GRT, built 1917) and Broomdale (Royal Fleet Auxiliary, 8334 GRT, built 1937). These ships were escorted by the sloop HMIS Hindustan (A/Cdr. I.B.W Heanly, RIN, Senior Officer) and the corvette HMS Marguerite (Lt.Cdr. A.N. Blundell, RNR).
These forces were to proceed at best speed and reverse their course after dark at 1700Z/1 and return to their ports at best speed to arrive there before dusk on 2 August 1942.
' Force A ' of the Eastern Fleet was to sail from Colombo at 0400Z/31 so as to be eastward of Trincomalee by the time ' Force T ' was due to sail on the 1st August. Thereafter, ' Force A ' was to cover ' Force T ' from the eastward during the 1st and 2nd August. Subsequent movements of ' Force A ' were to depend on the situation, the force finally returning to Colombo about the 4th August.
During the night of 1/2 August, whilst forces are at sea, a wireless diversion (called Operation Spark) was to be carried out to simulate the following events. 1.) An imaginary collision was to occur in ' Force M '. 2.) One of the damaged ships was to make a plain language W/T signal reporting she had been in collision and is unable to proceed on the operation. One of the escort was to order her to keep silence and later to report to the Commander-in-Chief that ' Force M ' was unable to proceed. The Commander-in-Chief was then to postpone the operation and order all forces to return to their ports. 3.) Shore Wireless Stations were to carry out their normal W/T procedure.
Catalina Patrols were to be established well to the eastward to cover the three convoys during the short period they were at sea and ' Force A ' whilst operating in the Bay of Bengal.
At 2200F/30, the Commander-in-Chief received the following enemy report from the Dutch submarine HrMs O 23 (Lt.Cdr. A.M. Valkenburg, RNN) which was on patrol in the Malacca Straits: ' Two cruisers of the Takao-class and four destroyers in position 05°32'N, 98°50'E. Course 340°. Speed 14 knots. Torpedoes missed. Time of Origin of the signal of HrMs O 23 was 2352Z/28.
It seemed unlikely that the enemy cruiser force, moving northwards close to the Thailand coast, was a sign of enemy reaction to the 'planted' rumours in India that seaborne forces wear being prepared to attack the Andaman Island. A more probable reason to account for this movement was a possible raid on shipping in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal or a visit to Rangoon to coincide with the establishment of the new Burmese puppet government.
HrMs O 23 was due to leave patrol in the Malacca Straits on the 31st July and return to Colombo. In view of the enemy forces reported previously by her and the forthcoming Operation Stab, she was ordered to remain on patrol until 3rd August.
Forces ' T ' and ' M ' were provided with air cover (this was not possible for ' Force V '), both by the long range reconnaissance Catalina patrols and local fighter escort, and in addition would have Force A covering them to the eastward, but ' Force V ' would be without air cover and too far away to be covered by ' Force A '. The Commander-in-Chief therefore decided to cancel the sailing of ' Force V ', but that all preparations for its departure were to continue.
In view of the enemy cruisers reported in the Malacca Straits on 29th July, The Commander-in-Chief decided to proceed with ' Force A ' from Colombo in the afternoon of 30 July. This would enable operation Stab to be carried out on the prearranged date and also admit of intercepting the Japanese force should it venture to the southern part of the Bay of Bengal.
' Force A ', comprising the battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious (Capt. A.G. Talbot, DSO, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), light cruisers HMS Birmingham (Capt. H.B. Crane, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant, CB, MVO, RN), HMS Mauritius (Capt. W.D. Stephens, RN), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN) and the destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HrMs Van Galen (Lt.Cdr. F.T. Burghard, RNN) and HMS Inconstant (Lt.Cdr. W.S. Clouston, RN) sailed from Colombo at 1700F/30.
Course was shaped to keep out of sight of land and to be in a position 35 miles to eastward of Trincomalee by 1000F/1.
Two air searches were sent out from ' Force A ' on 31st July. The first at 0800F to cover the section 050° to 080° ahead of the fleet to a depth of 150 miles; and the second at 1500F to search the sector 000° to 110° to a depth of 160 miles. Nothing was seen in either search.
Since no further information of the enemy cruiser force had been received, the Commander-in-Chief decided at 1100F/31 to postpone the sailing of ' Force M ' until 4 hours later and ordered a Catalina patrol to the north eastward of this force whilst at sea so as to give warning of approach of any possible enemy forces.
' Force T ' sailed from Trincomalee at the prearranged time, 0900F/1. At that time ' Force A ' was 40 miles north-east of Trincomalee, course south-west. At 1000F/1 course was altered to north-east, parallel to that of ' Force T ', and throughout the day, ' Force A ' maintained a covering position to the north-east of ' Force T '.An air reconnaissance was flown off at 0830F/1 to cover the section 340° to 000° to 130° to a depth of 150 nautical miles. This search saw nothing.
At 1040F/1, when ' Force A ' was in position 09°00'N, 21°42'E, 40 nautical miles north-east of Trincomalee, course northeast, an RDF contact was obtained on an aircraft bearing 100° range 73 miles. This was at first through to be one of the reconnaissance aircraft returning, but the absence of IFF indication being the unfortunately the rule rather than the exception. This aircraft was tracked around the fleet and passed astern at 1130F/1 on a bearing 220°, range 24 miles thence proceeded to the north-westward and finally faded on bearing 060° at 60 miles at 1215F/1. The aircraft was sighted by HMS Formidable and identified by two officers and an air lookout as a Catalina and reported as such. HMS Formidable did not send out fighters to investigate. Although the prearranged programme of the Catalina reconnaissance did not suggest one of these aircraft should be acting in this manner, the possibility was accepted in view of the lack of training of many of the newly arrived Catalina crews. Subsequent investigations and a warning of the presence of British forces broadcast from Tokyo established this was an enemy aircraft.
At noon a fighter umbrella of two Martlets was maintained by HMS Illustrious. One Martlet crashed into the barrier on deck landing. The need to economise on the fighter umbrella was governed by the necessity of conserving the Martlets. Had the aircraft referred earlier not been wrongly identified as a Catalina, The Commander-in-Chief was convinced that it could have been intercepted by Martlets that were ranged at readiness in both aircraft carriers.
A further air search was sent out at 1500F/1 to cover the sector from 000° to 110° to a depth of 150 miles but nothing was seen.
At 1800F/1, one of the Fulmar search aircraft made an emergency landing on HMS Illustrious, but crashed on desk due to a fractured oil pipe spraying the pilot’s windscreen, and was badly damaged.
At 1830F/1, all the search aircraft except two Fulmars had returned to their carriers. The two missing aircraft reported to HMS Formidable by wireless that they were lost and requested D/F bearings. The Commander-in-Chief at once ordered wireless silence to be broken to home these aircraft. The fleet was turned at 1840F/1 to close one of the aircraft when bearing had been definitely established by D/F and RDF. Searchlights were burned at dusk to assist returning aircraft and at 1920F/1 Very’s lights were sighted to the south-west. A few minutes later one of the aircraft was sighted and closed the carriers. Unfortunately, the aircraft by this time so short of petrol that it had to force land in the sea. The crew were picked up by HMAS Norman.
By 2000F/1. ' Force A ', which had become somewhat dispersed during reversal of course and whilst locating the crew of the aircraft, was reformed and course altered to the north west. Unfortunately nothing further was heard or seen of the other missing Fulmar with the exception of one report that a light had been seen to the eastward. A night search for the survivors of this aircraft was considered, but as they would have left the convoy uncovered to the northeast, The Commander-in-Chief decided it was preferable to return to this area at dawn and carry out a daytime air search. The Commander-in-Chief therefore continued to the north-west and at 0100F/2 in position 11°30'N, 82°15'E, course was reversed to the south-east and at daylight course was altered to south.
The wireless diversion (Operation Spark) was carried out as previously arranged during the night at 2300F/1 and appears to have been fully effective.
At 0630F/2, a thorough air search was sent out to look for survivors of the Fulmar which had been lost the previous evening. Whilst this attack was continuing, ' Force A ' was manoeuvred in the area in which it was estimated that the survivors might have landed. No survivors were located and it must be presumed with regret that the crew of two was lost. Catalinas which would be operating through this area were requested to keep a good lookout for survivors.
At 1030F/2, despatches were transferred by HMAS Norman from HMS Warspite to HMS Illustrious and thence sent by aircraft to Trincomalee for onward transmission. At 1100F/2, HMS Formidable flew off two Martlets as fighter umbrella. At 1112F/2, both carriers reported RDF contact on an aircraft bearing 055°, range 55 miles. HMS Formidable directed two Martlets onto this aircraft. When the fighters sighted the enemy flying boat at 10000 feet they first thought it was a Catalina, but on approaching closely identified it as a Japanese flying boat Navy Type 97, and promptly shot it down in approximate position 09°26'N, 83°16'E. The flying boat, which appeared to be taken completely by surprise, gave no return fire and after the second burst of fire from the Martlets, caught fire, disintegrated and fell in flames. No survivors were seen.
In the meantime at 111F/2 a further two Martlets each were flown off by the carriers. One of these Martlets from HMS Formidable crashed into the sea on taking off. The pilot was rescued by HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck.
A fighter umbrella of two Martlets was maintained for the rest of the day by HMS Illustrious. At 1530F/2 one of these Martlets appeared to have an engine failure and crashed into the sea whilst approaching to land on. The pilot was lost.
At about 1100F/2, the Commander-in-Chief had received information from the Flag Officer, Ceylon that Air Headquarters Bengal considered there were indications of naval activity south of the Andamans at 2300Z/31, that pointed to the possibility of an attack on Madras at dawn on the 3rd August and that the information on which this was based was from a most secret source. Flag Officer, Ceylon, had also informed Admiralty and the Deputy Commander in Chief, Eastern Fleet.
There was nothing in Air Headquarters Bengal signal to indicate what was the nature of the naval activity which had been reported nor the reliability of the source. The Commander-in-Chief immediately requested Flag Officer, Ceylon to obtain amplification of this report.
Although a dawn attack by this Japanese naval force on Madras on 3rd August was possible, The Commander-in-Chief considered the following factors would make it very improbable. 1.) ' Force A ', probably having been sighted by the Japanese flying boat A.M. 1st August. 2.) ' Force A ', breaking wireless silence to endeavour to recover aircraft on the evening of 1st August. 3.) The wireless diversion (Operation Spark), carried out on the night of 1st/2nd August.
Nevertheless the Commander-in-Chief felt that he could not disregard Air Headquarters Bengal report and he therefore decided to proceed at once to Trincomalee and refuel destroyers in preparation for an extension of the present operation. he informed Their Lordships of his intentions in his signal 1215Z/2. Course was altered at 1215F/2 to the westward and speed increased to reach Trincomalee before dark.
' Force A ' entered Trincomalee at 1915F/2 and refuelling of destroyers commenced at once and as completed at 2200F/2 when it had been intended that ' Force A ' should sail again.
Additional Catalina patrols had been arranged to cover the approaches to Madras from the east and south-east, from p.m. 2nd August until daylight 3rd August.
It was not until ' Force A ' arrived at Trincomalee at 1900F/2 that the Commander-in-Chief received a message from Air Headquarters India (Flag Officer Ceylon’s 0744/2) stated that they did not agree with the deductions nor authorize the message from Air Headquarters Bengal. After discussion with Rear Admiral Commanding, Aircraft Carriers and Rear Admiral Commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron, the Commander-in-Chief decided that there was no real basis for this report and in view of HMS Formidable and HMS Birmingham being required at an early date to return to Kilindini for Operation Streamline Jane, the Commander-in-Chief decided the ' Force A ' should return to Colombo.
The Commander-in-Chief informed Their Lordships of his revised intentions in his message 1649Z/2.
' Force A ' sailed accordingly from Trincomalee at 0600F/3 and shaped course for Colombo keeping out of sight of land. During the day a safety patrol of one aircraft was maintained 30 miles ahead of the Fleet. This patrol was carried out by Walrus aircraft from cruisers during the afternoon but had to be cancelled owing to rising wind and sea. A fighter umbrella of two Martlets was maintained throughout the day.
At 1030F/3, HMS Manxman, who was returning from Madras to Colombo, as about 30 miles south-west of ' Force A '. An aircraft was sent to order her to join ' Force A ', which she did at 1300F/3.
At 1430F/3, HMS Illustrious obtained an RDF contact on an aircraft bearing 60° and at 1440F/3, HMS Warspite obtained a doubtful contact on the same bearing at a range of 50 miles. Both contacts faded ten minutes later. At that time ' Force A ' was in position approximately 06°40'N, 82°10'E. The RDF contact may have been a Japanese flying boat, but more probably an aircraft operating from China Bay as no Catalina were know to be in that area. The uncertainty and short duration of the contacts rendered fighter interception impracticable.
Before leaving Trincomalee the Commander-in-Chief had proposed to Air Officer Commanding, Ceylon that opportunity should be taken to exercise that Fighter Direction of shore based fighters from HM ships and any other air exercises he might wish to carry out.
From 1645F/3 to 1800F/3, successful fighter direction exercise was carried out using two Fulmars from HMS Illustrious as the enemy. R/T communication was obtained quickly and no difficulty experienced in directing the Hurricanes on to their target. From 1800F/3 till dusk these two Fulmars took over the duties of fighter umbrella.
The next air exercise was a night shadowing exercise and a night torpedo and bombing attack on the fleet.
At 1850F/3, HMS Illustrious reported an aircraft in sight bearing 190° and directed the fighter umbrella of two Fulmars to investigate. This aircraft which was clearly in sight from HMS Warspite was a flying boat just visible above the horizon and though it presented characteristics of a Catalina, it could not definitely be identified as such. HMS Illustrious directed the Fulmars on to the target, a warning being given by R/T that the aircraft was possibly friendly. Unfortunately the designation 'Bandit' i.e. enemy aircraft, as opposed to 'Bogey' i.e. unidentified aircraft, was employed by the Fighter Directing Officer. For this and other reasons which are being investigated by a Board of Enquiry one of the Fulmars opened fire on this flying boat, which proved to be a Catalina. Fire was ceased directly the pilot realized his mistake but the Commander-in-Chief regret to report that one airman was killed and two injured and the Catalina’s rudder damaged. The Fulmars returned to HMS Illustrious and from subsequent signals it appeared that the Catalina was still airborne and returning to her base. As a safety measure HMS Mauritius and HMS Manxman were detached to search the area in case the Catalina was forced to land, but were recalled when it was clear from RDF bearings that the Catalina was proceeding to Koggala.
During the night of 3rd/4th August the shore based reconnaissance aircraft were unable to locate ' Force A ' and in consequence no attacks were delivered. From 0530F/4 to 0645F/4 another fighter direction exercise with shore based aircraft was successfully carried out.
' Force A ' arrived at Colombo at 0900F/4. (7)
- ADM 199/1879
- ADM 199/1138
- ADM 53/114165 + ADM 53/114195 + ADM 199/395
- ADM 173/16987
- ADM 173/16988
- ADM 173/17660
- ADM 199/1389
ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.