Buffaloes save Force Z, now what?

Admiral Beez

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Through better coordination/communication between RAF and RN along with the help of the Type 281 radar on HMS Prince of Wales (effective to 20 km), the RAF tears apart the unescorted Nells and Bettys that attacked Force Z on Dec 10th, resulting in no or minor damage of Force Z.

10:00 - 9 x Nell conduct level attack with bombs
11:40 - 17 x Nell torpedo bombers attack
12:20 - 26 x Betty torpedo bombers attack
12:41 - ?? x level bombers attack

You can't stop this attack over three hours with ten Buffaloes. How do we realistically have the RAF save Force Z? Could the Blenheim fighters be useful?

And now what? Phillips' ships are unscathed, but they must now fight on or flee. But to where, Repulse is very short ranged. Back to Singapore for a quick refuel?
 
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Admiral Beez

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Singapore for refueling and then either Ceylon or Darwin, away from Japanese land-based air until I have secured air superiority.
I wonder if the lack of any success on the part of the IJNAS bombers will give Phillips an underestimation of the risk of air power. He might thus stick around. But yes, I think the Admiralty might order Phillips to do as you suggest and fall back on Ceylon to await HMS Indomitable and further reinforcements. Those left on the ground and in the air in Malaya won't be too pleased with the navy as it sails away.

If Force Z survives further air attacks, it may be years before land based bombers sink a battleship at sea. The only one I can think of is Roma's sinking by Fritz-X armed Dornier Do 217s. The Channel Dash should have presented another. The Nells and Bettys never again had such success, being torn apart by CAPs every time they attempted to attack large allied warships.
 
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Thumpalumpacus

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I wonder if the lack of any success on the part of the IJNAS bombers will give Phillips an underestimation of the risk of air power. He might thus stick around. But yes, I think the Admiralty might order Phillips to do as you suggest and fall back on Ceylon to await HMS Indomitable and further reinforcements. Those left on the ground and in the air in Malaya won't be too pleased with the navy as it sails away.

The sad fact is that both the Brits and the Americans underestimated Japanese aerial capabilities, both land- and carrier based, at that time.

Perhaps Admiralty should have garnered the lessons of Bismarck's sinking (aided and abetted as it was by both recon and TSR aerial assets) and ordered Adm Phillips as you suggest -- before the ill-fated sailing. I don't know much about Darwin's port facilities, but defending the Malay barrier from there seems advisable if the two battlewagons can get sufficient support.

I suppose the desperation of the early war meant that we Allies didn't have the luxury of options, but had Zed survived the attack, I don't doubt the shock of seeing Japanese planes a few hundred miles beyond estimated radius would have forced them to do as I mentioned in my previous post. Luck eventually runs out.

The Nells and Bettys never again had such success, being torn apart by CAPs every time they attempted to attack large allied warships.

The closest the Japanese came was sinking USS Chicago in the Battle of Rennell Island.
 

Conslaw

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In the spirit of "what ifs", I can imagine the 10 Buffalos maybe not shooting down the majority of the attackers but driving them off and rendering their attacks unsuccessful. Covering the invasion convoy was Admiral Ozawa's force of 4 heavy cruisers and 4 destroyers. This force alone would have been sufficient at least to defend the invasion fleet. If not, Admiral Kondo had the battleships KONGO and HARUNA the heavy cruisers ATAGO (flag Vice-Admiral Kondo) and TAKAO and 10 destroyers.

It seems very unlikely that had the Japanese not scored a lucky and skillful air attack on Force Z, then Force Z may have been able to get some licks in, but it likely would have been overwhelmed by superior Japanese air and naval forces overall.
 

EwenS

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In the spirit of "what ifs", I can imagine the 10 Buffalos maybe not shooting down the majority of the attackers but driving them off and rendering their attacks unsuccessful. Covering the invasion convoy was Admiral Ozawa's force of 4 heavy cruisers and 4 destroyers. This force alone would have been sufficient at least to defend the invasion fleet. If not, Admiral Kondo had the battleships KONGO and HARUNA the heavy cruisers ATAGO (flag Vice-Admiral Kondo) and TAKAO and 10 destroyers.

It seems very unlikely that had the Japanese not scored a lucky and skillful air attack on Force Z, then Force Z may have been able to get some licks in, but it likely would have been overwhelmed by superior Japanese air and naval forces overall.
Except by the time Force Z was intercepted by the Japanese aircraft strike force on 10th Dec, it was on its way back to Singapore.

The Japanese had ordered their empty transports back to Cam Ranh Bay in Southern Indo China the previous afternoon, 9th Dec, on receiving sighting reports on Force Z from I65. Japanese covering forces and Force Z got close to each other during the night of 9/10 without realising it.

Phillips abandoned the operation to intercept the Japanese landing force around 2000 on 9th Dec. One reason being that his destroyers were running short of fuel. During the night he diverted towards Kuantan to investigate a report of a landing which turned out the following morning to be false.

Map of general movements here. The presence of air cover would not have made any difference to Phillips plan of withdrawal to Singapore. It might only have changed his ability to get there.

1670060511667.gif
 

Admiral Beez

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The presence of air cover would not have made any difference to Phillips plan of withdrawal to Singapore. It might only have changed his ability to get there.
Phillips and the six ships of Force Z make it intact to join the cruiser HMS Mauritius (then in drydock) and other light craft then at Singapore. Now that the Japanese are landed in Malaya there’s no real need for battleships.

My suggestion, the whole fleet sails for Bombay to await the sailing of BM9A, the first reinforcement convoy, but convoy or not, Force Z stays put until HMS Indomitable arrives in January.
 

buffnut453

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Now that the Japanese are landed in Malaya there’s no real need for battleships.

They'd provide a pretty impressive naval bombardment capability. Given the paucity of British artillery in the theatre, having PoW and Repulse raining down shells on choke points could seriously hurt the Japanese advance and plug an identified capability gap for the Army in Malaya.

Of course, such an idea would require considerable innovation, both from the RN and GHQ Malaya. It would also require establishment of good ship-to-shore comms. Both these factors militate against the viability.

The other factor is the mindset of Far East Command. Even early in the campaign, they were receiving reports of the IJN setting up a submarine base in Penang. There's no way you're going to park 2 capital ships, with a weak defending screen of destroyers, west of Malaya if you think there's a submarine threat.

All in all, this idea is a non-starter...but we are talking "what if" so I thought it worth mentioning.
 

Thumpalumpacus

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Phillips and the six ships of Force Z make it intact to join the cruiser HMS Mauritius (then in drydock) and other light craft then at Singapore. Now that the Japanese are landed in Malaya there’s no real need for battleships.

My suggestion, the whole fleet sails for Bombay to await the sailing of BM9A, the first reinforcement convoy, but convoy or not, Force Z stays put until HMS Indomitable arrives in January.

Retreating to Ceylon or Bombay retains a fleet-in-being. Putting them alongside the isthmus for shore bombardment only offers them up to further aerial attacks at a point in time when the RAF simply cannot offer air cover.
 

buffnut453

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Retreating to Ceylon or Bombay retains a fleet-in-being. Putting them alongside the isthmus for shore bombardment only offers them up to further aerial attacks at a point in time when the RAF simply cannot offer air cover.

But the IJNAF didn't have any assets in Malaya. The INAF's forces were all in southern French Indochina (it was IJNAF bombers that attacked Singapore on 8 Dec 1941) and, while they could undoubtedly reach the Malacca Strait, maintaining any kind of search presence there would have been challenging. Also, in December 1941 the RAF and the ML-KNIL could combine to defend the Malacca Straits.

The presence of Force Z would likely have required the IJNAF to move from southern French Indochina to Thailand or northern Malaya. The problem was where to put the aircraft. The IJAAF was already using almost all the available airfields...and we know how well the IJA and IJN got along, so sharing an airfield would be extremely unlikely.

Operating Force Z west of Malaya would be far from perfect but, IMHO, it's not a foregone conclusion that it was impossible. Even a brief sortie to take out bridges along the west coast road and generally disrupt Japanese vehicle movement would have helped.
 

EwenS

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The other factor is the mindset of Far East Command. Even early in the campaign, they were receiving reports of the IJN setting up a submarine base in Penang. There's no way you're going to park 2 capital ships, with a weak defending screen of destroyers, west of Malaya if you think there's a submarine threat.
Don’t recall reading about this previously. So how early in the campaign? Historically thoughts of it only started in March / April, IIRC, after the Germans asked for an IO anti-shipping campaign.

But again geography comes into play. With Penang at the top end of Malacca Strait and, in this what if, with the Allies still in command of southern Malaya, Sumatra and Java, just how do you go about setting it up? Moving everything needed across the isthmus? The subs for Operation C sortied, like the carriers, from Staring Bay in Celebes at end of March. Long way round to ship everything and to protect it.
 

Thumpalumpacus

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But the IJNAF didn't have any assets in Malaya. The INAF's forces were all in southern French Indochina (it was IJNAF bombers that attacked Singapore on 8 Dec 1941) and, while they could undoubtedly reach the Malacca Strait, maintaining any kind of search presence there would have been challenging. Also, in December 1941 the RAF and the ML-KNIL could combine to defend the Malacca Straits.

The presence of Force Z would likely have required the IJNAF to move from southern French Indochina to Thailand or northern Malaya. The problem was where to put the aircraft. The IJAAF was already using almost all the available airfields...and we know how well the IJA and IJN got along, so sharing an airfield would be extremely unlikely.

Operating Force Z west of Malaya would be far from perfect but, IMHO, it's not a foregone conclusion that it was impossible. Even a brief sortie to take out bridges along the west coast road and generally disrupt Japanese vehicle movement would have helped.

It's not that it's impossible, it's that imo it'd be unwise. While the Japanese would have to move forces to cover the western side -- perhaps -- they were, as you point out, already ranging to Singapore. And that means the docks and repair/upkeep facilities for PoW and Repulse were themselves at risk, even as the ships being closer to shore are themselves easier to target.

So we have ships in range of attack, with questionable fighter cover, and their repair facilities also under threat. And we have yet to mention Japanese surface assets that could take action as well.

As for advance basing, again, in Dec 41 the land-based IJN bombers could hit Singapore from FIC already, and while I haven't run any numbers I'd bet that could cover some of the western side of the peninsula too.

Keeping Force Z around just doesn't seem advisable to me. The risk-gain equation doesn't look good. I'd go with Ceylon or Darwin and build a fleet around them. Two battlewagons would probably make DeRuyter's problems a little easier, or the Japanese problems a little harder? Or maybe knowing Zed is in Colombo or Trincomalee, Op C is reconfigured or put off? Force Z added to Somerville's forces, do the Japanese feel so comfortable stretching their legs?
 

buffnut453

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It's not that it's impossible, it's that imo it'd be unwise. While the Japanese would have to move forces to cover the western side -- perhaps -- they were, as you point out, already ranging to Singapore. And that means the docks and repair/upkeep facilities for PoW and Repulse were themselves at risk, even as the ships being closer to shore are themselves easier to target.

So we have ships in range of attack, with questionable fighter cover, and their repair facilities also under threat. And we have yet to mention Japanese surface assets that could take action as well.

Agree with all. The air threat to Singapore docks was substantial and, if persisted throughout December, would have undoubtedly made life difficult for Force Z on a number of fronts.

Regarding the IJN surface threat, bear in mind most IJN assets in the region were pretty busy protecting the convoys bringing IJA forces into the east coast of Malaya. Not even the Japanese can be in two places at once.


As for advance basing, again, in Dec 41 the land-based IJN bombers could hit Singapore from FIC already, and while I haven't run any numbers I'd bet that could cover some of the western side of the peninsula too.

Yep...I already made this point. However, the IJNAF would have to overfly the Malay peninsular and airfields like Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur afforded opportunities for defending fighters to be closer at hand.

Also bear in mind that Force Z had an air liaison and fighter coordination officer, Sqn Ldr Frank Howell, who went on to command 243 Sqn flying Buffalos from Kallang. He was aboard when Force Z was attacked, but he survived. Force Z had radar and, with Howell providing fighter direction, could have been far better placed to repel any attacks than was the case with the actual sortie that led to the sinking (remember Philips wasn't expecting fighter cover which likely coloured his decision not to call for fighter support once the IJNAF attack developed.


Keeping Force Z around just doesn't seem advisable to me. The risk-gain equation doesn't look good. I'd go with Ceylon or Darwin and build a fleet around them. Two battlewagons would probably make DeRuyter's problems a little easier, or the Japanese problems a little harder? Or maybe knowing Zed is in Colombo or Trincomalee, Op C is reconfigured or put off? Force Z added to Somerville's forces, do the Japanese feel so comfortable stretching their legs?

Agree entirely that keeping Force Z around would not be the best idea. The problem is that pulling back Force Z effectively means it has zero impact...achieving the same objective as what happened in reality, leaving the British with no maritime force in the region after 10 Dec 1941. I'm just trying to find SOMETHING useful for Force Z to accomplish that wasn't entirely impossible. Agree my idea would be unwise, though.
 

Admiral Beez

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They'd provide a pretty impressive naval bombardment capability. Given the paucity of British artillery in the theatre, having PoW and Repulse raining down shells on choke points could seriously hurt the Japanese advance and plug an identified capability gap for the Army in Malaya.
Far too risky for vital fast battleships, especially with few escorts and a rapidly declining RAF cover. But you make a good point for NGFS, and it’s too bad that HMS Terror was withdrawn from Singapore in Jan. 1940, where the 15” armed monitor had been stationed since 1934.

I expect the loss of HMS Ark Royal in Nov. may make the RN a little reticent to risk HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse. They were supposed to be a backwater deterrence only. So, with that mission now canceled, it’s time to leave the area. What about splitting up the force? Send Repulse to the US west coast to have her terribly deficient AA upgraded? With a range of only 6,500 nmi it will be a three part run, Singapore, Darwin, HI to CA or WA. An AA upgrade is desperately needed, as no fast battleship in RN service has worse antiair than Repulse.

Thoughts on loading up the fleeing battleships with noncombatant, nonessential civilians? Not thousands, but take all the Western children, wives, etc?
 
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Macandy

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The sad fact is that both the Brits and the Americans underestimated Japanese aerial capabilities, both land- and carrier based, at that time.

Very much so.
The British War Department was sending out such helpful 'intelligence' to the Far East after Pearl Harbor as advising Senior Officers that it was best to fight the Japanese at night and that their pilots were no real threat as they had very poor eyesight due to their rice diet!
No, that is not an urban myth - they really were sending out cables full of that nonsense.
 

Admiral Beez

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Both sides willfully underestimated and suffered confirmation bias when looking at their opponent. Japan's misreading of the US culture and people is classic, how did they think that destroying the US Pacific Fleet would somehow scare Americans to ask Japan for peace? The utter failure of the Russians on land and sea in 1904-05 did no one any favours in the interwar business of enemy analysis and predictions.
No, that is not an urban myth - they really were sending out cables full of that nonsense.
We're not much better today when we assess the potential combat effectiveness of China, one seemingly beset by poor eyesight and sh#tty kit.




 
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don4331

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They'd provide a pretty impressive naval bombardment capability. Given the paucity of British artillery in the theatre, having PoW and Repulse raining down shells on choke points could seriously hurt the Japanese advance and plug an identified capability gap for the Army in Malaya.

Of course, such an idea would require considerable innovation, both from the RN and GHQ Malaya. It would also require establishment of good ship-to-shore comms. Both these factors militate against the viability.

The other factor is the mindset of Far East Command. Even early in the campaign, they were receiving reports of the IJN setting up a submarine base in Penang. There's no way you're going to park 2 capital ships, with a weak defending screen of destroyers, west of Malaya if you think there's a submarine threat.

All in all, this idea is a non-starter...but we are talking "what if" so I thought it worth mentioning.
PoW and Repulse ammunition load out is 100% AP for main weapons (Same as the coastal defense guns in Singapore). There's very little solid enough to trigger the fuse, And even when it's triggered, when its 40'+ under surface, its not very effective (issue coastal defense guns had).

And remember Japanese have 2 BBs, 5+ CAs, CL, numerous DDs, and couple SS in theatre. There is also CVL, just across South China Sea - operating off Philippines.

But the IJNAF didn't have any assets in Malaya. The INAF's forces were all in southern French Indochina (it was IJNAF bombers that attacked Singapore on 8 Dec 1941) and, while they could undoubtedly reach the Malacca Strait, maintaining any kind of search presence there would have been challenging. Also, in December 1941 the RAF and the ML-KNIL could combine to defend the Malacca Straits.

The presence of Force Z would likely have required the IJNAF to move from southern French Indochina to Thailand or northern Malaya. The problem was where to put the aircraft. The IJAAF was already using almost all the available airfields...and we know how well the IJA and IJN got along, so sharing an airfield would be extremely unlikely.
INAF have to stay in French Indochina - its a logistics thing.

There is no way to transport (rail and/or ship) the required beans/bombs & band-aids to Thailand/northern Malaya without impacting army's ability to strike south.

IMHO: If you want Singapore to last longer:
a. set up/increase water de-salination plant on the island.
b. get 1/2, the troops out of theater: We can't feed them, we can't provide them with munitions and we can't patch them up - the port facilities don't have the capacity.
i. Send Australian troops back home - they will be better used against New Guinea in June '42 and later when we have logistics to support them.
ii. Send 1/2 Indian troops to Burma where they can be supported/kept fighting for Allies. (3/4 of the Indian troops join the pro-Independence INA; ~20% later fight against Commonwealth troops - not exactly the guys you want watching your back).
iii. Send at least 1/2 of the administrative staff to Perth.

Now, Percival has a force that can be supported, and can be enthused to provide a spirited defense.
 

Macandy

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So… Force Z survives.

Nagumo sails south with some carriers and sinks it.

And when Nagumo rocks up, there is no reason to assume the British would have not made exactly the same mistake they did in March 1942 off Ceylon, acted with excessive over confidence against the IJN on the basis of faulty intelligence, and dramatically and catastrophically underestimate the striking power of the IJN carriers.
 

EwenS

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PoW and Repulse ammunition load out is 100% AP for main weapons (Same as the coastal defense guns in Singapore). There's very little solid enough to trigger the fuse, And even when it's triggered, when its 40'+ under surface, its not very effective (issue coastal defense guns had).

Re the Singapore 15” guns, not quite true. Useless fact time. An official report stated there was a single (1) HE shell found in the magazines before the Japanese invaded! :D

On a more serious note, on 28th Jan 1942 additional HE shells had been requested. The War Office authorised the dispatch of 100 HE shells from Ceylon for the 9.2” guns (which only had 25-30 for each of the 6 guns on the island) while the Admiralty was to send 250 HE shells from the Med (probably Egypt from Med Fleet stocks) for the 15” guns. None arrived before the island fell to the Japanese.

A more interesting question relates to replacement ammunition for PoW. Until 20 Oct 1941 when the decision was taken to deploy PoW to the IO area, there had been no plan to base any KGV east of Gibraltar. Admiralty plans revolved around Repulse, the R class and the Nelrods until then. Not needed if deterrence is the plan, but when war breaks out everything changes. So the logistics chain to supply PoW with 14” shells would have needed to catch up. So it’s unlikely any spare ammunition existed in the IO area for her in Dec at the time of her loss. How long to haul that from Britain?

Given the number of Dido class cruisers operating in the eastern Med, getting hold of 5.25” ammo would have been much less of a problem.

It was probably 1943 before HE became a standard part of the KGV outfit. And then only 5rpg unless shore bombardments were being planned when more would be loaded (so late 1944 onwards perhaps).
 

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