Chapter 13: Burma Operations (1942–1945)
Operations By Coastal Forces – M. L. Flotillas
The 55th ML Flotilla arrived in Chittagong in December 1942 ready to support the land operations along the Arakan. Operational duties began on the night of 24 January, when the Flotilla began to operate a double patrol, one into the Mayu river, and one between Oyster Island and Akyab Harbour. The aim was to assist the Fourteenth Indian Division and to interrupt Japanese sea-borne communications. On the first patrol, ML 477 speedily came into action when she met two Japanese armed launches full of troops. A short and spirited engagement followed in which one Japanese launch was sunk and the other forced ashore.
The Flotilla carried out two other short operations before the close of January. In one of these, landing parties were put ashore without opposition on Oyster Island, and in the other, two motor launches carried out a raid on Kyaukpyu harbour. ML 439 entered the harbour but was unable to find more worthy targets than two small fishing craft, which were sunk.
February began with a series of anti-shipping sweeps in which HDML 1102 of the Burma Navy co-operated. On 13 January 1943 during a patrol in the Mayu river, MLs 438 and 476 were engaged by a battery of Japanese 57-mm guns. During the duel which ensued the launch escaped damage, but a small Japanese fishing vessel which had been ill-advised enough to put in an appearance, was sunk.
On the 26th, a small but highly successful raid was carried out in Hunter’s Bay. MLs 439, 440, 441 and 476 sailed from Teknaaf with a platoon of the Durham Light Infantry embarked, and at 2300 entered Myebon Creek. As the jetty was closed, figures were seen running towards the boats. Lt. Commander St. J. H. Heather, DSC, RINVR, in ML 439 shouted to these men to secure the boat lines which they proceeded to do. They appeared to realise suddenly that something was wrong and turned to run away but immediately all machine guns which could be brought to bear opened
fire. Two of the Japanese were killed instantaneously and the third disappeared.
The troops were disembarked and proceeded ashore to carry out their demolitions. The launches carried out a general bombardment of Myebon village and of a Japanese machine-gun post which was disputing the assault. During this period Lt. S. M. Ahsan, RIN, with MLs 440 and 441, had been detailed to proceed up the river and look for a ship which had been located by air reconnaissance. This ship was found, and was engaged and subsequently destroyed by the two launches. In this action, Lt. S. M. Ahsan was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. By the time MLs 440 and 441 had re-joined the main force, the troops had been re-embarked, and the whole Flotilla returned safely to Teknaaf on the 27th.
Next day the launches sailed from Teknaaf to attack Kyaukpyu, but en route two small Japanese steamers were sighted and after an exciting chase both were set on fire and sunk. This operation caused a commotion in the area, and the element of surprise was lost. It was therefore decided to abandon the attack on Kyaukpyu. In the middle of March, the Flotilla carried out the last operation of the season, a running bombardment of the road between Donbaik and Mayu Point. At the end of the month, the launches were withdrawn from Burma for refit.
They returned to begin the new campaign in October 1943, when MLs 438 and 474 carried out a delicate and difficult operation. Their job was to land a small reconnaissance party on the coast between Gwa and Bassein river, and this necessitated the towing by ML 438 of a landing craft all the way from Chittagong. The landing was made successfully and the two launches thereafter lay up in the lee of Foul Island for two days to re-embark the party.
In November ML 477 carried out another operation of this nature successfully.
Two bombardment operations in December brought the Flotilla some excitement. In the first, the Flotilla carried out an offensive sweep from Danson Bay to Combermere Bay searching for Japanese shipping. None was found, and the Flotilla therefore engaged itself in bombarding Japanese held coasts indiscriminately. On the way home ML 476 ran aground on Gwa Island but was successfully refloated.
On 13 November, MLs 439, 441 and 476 set off from Chittagong to carry out a bombardment operation against Japanese positions
on Ramree Island. The actual bombardment drew no return fire and went “entirely according to plan”. The operational planning staff in the Naval Air Operation Room at Chittagong had been aware that a force of Japanese aircraft had recently been moved up into the area, and it was anticipated that these launches returning, apparently un-supported, from this operation, would provide a sufficiently tempting target to coax the Japanese Air Force into the sky. Accordingly an RAF fighter escort was lying in wait just out of sight. On the morning of the 31st, the launches were attacked by some 32 Japanese Bombers and Zero Fighters. The Japanese pressed home their attack and the Flotilla was sorely pressed. ML 439 was straddled by three bombs; she was damaged and one member of her crew injured. Two other launches received several near misses. Just as things were beginning to look extremely grim, the fighter escort arrived on the scene and within sight of the launches shot down thirteen” of the attacking bombers. They were credited with three more probables and a further seven damaged, and the launches reached Chittagong without further molestation.
The year 1944 began with the 55th ML Flotilla still operating alone in the Arakan waters. The year’s first operation took place on 8 January, when MLs 475, 438 and 440 proceeded to an anchorage off Cox’s Bazar from which course was set to approach Ramree Roads from the south-east through Childers Channel. As the boats arrived off Unguan Island, a fireworks display was put up by the Japanese, indicating that the Force had been observed. At 2147 the launches entered Ramree harbour. ML 440 had gone off to investigate three objects which were thought to be fishing craft, and MLs 475 and 438 proceeded un-opposed towards Dragon Shoal. At 2300 a small fishing vessel was sighted and intercepted for interrogation. A large amount of useful information was obtained. Meanwhile ML 440 signalled that the three fishing boats sighted had entered the harbour. Thereupon the MLs 475 and 438 altered course, increased speed and proceeded to intercept the Japanese craft. Unfortunately by the time navigational hazards (in the shape of rocks, shoals and fishing stakes) had been avoided, they had made their escape to the north, and the Force therefore re-formed and proceeded back to base.
The First HDMLs
At the end of 1943, the first HDMLs made their appearance in the Arakan waters, This was the 121st HDML Flotilla
which arrived in Chittagong, and on 7 January these boats took part in their first operation. HDMLs 1120 and 1115 sailed to carry out three operations which, amongst other things, necessitated an entry being made into the Irrawaddi Delta, a strip of over a thousand miles in hostile waters, and absence from the base for 6 to 7 days. ML 477 was sailed to anchorage off Calventuras to act as wireless link, as it would be impossible for the HDMLs to communicate direct with the base in an emergency.
The HDMLs failed in their attempt to navigate in the Irrawaddi Delta owing to shallow water. All went well until the boats were attacked by Japanese bombers off Bassein Point. The hostile aircraft dropped six bombs and a spirited engagement ensued, the Japanese finally disengaging when the 2-pounders from the launches proved uncomfortably accurate. At this stage, HDML 1120 developed engine trouble, and was forced to anchor off Foul Island to effect repairs. The report signals made by HDML 1115 had been relayed successfully by ML 447, and this vessel, in order to ensure that HDML 1120 was in fact safe, proceeded to Foul Island to render any necessary assistance. The HDML however had already proceeded, and all boats returned safely to Chittagong on 15 January.
Change of Operational Base Teknaaf
Chittagong was proving more and more unsatisfactory as a base for operations. The XV Indian Corps, with headquarters some 8 miles north-east of Maungdaw, was anxious for closer support from the naval force, hence it was proposed that a proper advance base be set up for the boats at Teknaaf, and advanced base “Millie” came into being.
About this time the 56th ML Flotilla arrived in Chittagong and shortly afterwards 49th (South African) ML Flotilla also arrived. The HDMLs were strengthened by the arrival of the 145th HDML (Royal Navy) Flotilla, and there was a healthy rivalry between the three navies in the ensuring operations.
From the end of January and throughout February the Japanese, both on land and in the air, showed an increasingly aggressive spirit. Several air-raids took place with Chittagong as the main objective, and the XV Corps was kept extremely busy on the Mayu range.
Between 24 and 26 January, MLs 447, 440, 474 and 476 carried out a bombardment of Ramree Island in the vicinity of Thames Point.
February began with operation “Pioneer , carried out by MLs 475, 440 438 and 477. The object of this operation was to enter Kyaukpyu harbour and destroy any craft which might be sheltering there. When the boats approached, the harbour, however, it was found that a net of rope was being dragged through the water by ML 475, and this eventually stopped the craft. It was found on investigation to be a wire boom, and considerable difficulty was experienced in clearing a length of wire which fouled the propeller. The boom actually consisted of 1¼-inch wire stretched across the entrance to the harbour from the southern part of Ledaung Kyun across the Reliance Shoal to the shore. It was supported by elliptical floats throughout its length, and at intervals by danbuoys heavily anchored. In view of this, it was decided that it would be impracticable to enter Kyaukpyu, and a long-range bombardment of Georgina Point was carried out without opposition.
While this operation was proceeding, the 56th ML Flotilla under Lt. A.J. Howard RINVR, was carrying out its first operation, bombarding Minbyin, half way up on the western seaboard of Ramree Island. MLs 412, 419, 416 and 413 took part, and a successful bombardment culminating in a small explosion and fire ashore, was carried through. The Japanese apparently returned the fire, as red flashes were seen from the hillside, but no fall of shot was observed, and in due course the force returned to base.
During the night the weather deteriorated. ML 419 lost contact, and on the morning of 3 February this boat was attacked by 8 Japanese Zeroes, which dived on the boat out of the sun at less than 100 feet. The first attack was by machine-gun, and thereafter combined attacks, with machine-gun and bombs, were made by the Zeroes, attacking in pairs from either side, the first firing guns, and the second dropping bombs. The attack continued for four minutes, and the last two aircraft were hit by the midship Oerlikon. Three sticks of light bombs secured near misses, and-one, apparently a 100-kilo armour piercing bomb, made a direct hit on the after end of the bridge wing. The armour plating on the bridge deflected the bomb which went through the deck and through the side of the ship one foot above the water line before exploding in the water. The tail of the bomb remained on board, and though the launch was damaged, no casualties were sustained.
On 8 February ML 416, while proceeding on a secret mission, was attacked some 20 miles south of Cox’s Bazaar by a four-engined Japanese flying boat. The aircraft attacked from ahead, and one
bomb was dropped from 3,000 feet falling in the wake of the launch, about a hundred yards astern. Five attacking runs were made, on four of which bombs were dropped, but the launch was not hit. On the last run the aircraft came within the range of the M.L’s guns for the first time, and some good shooting was put in by all armament. The aircraft swerved violently and disappeared astern in a steep dive. Owing to the engagement the secret operation was cancelled, and ML 416 returned to Chittagong on the 9th.
During this period, it was necessary, in order to obtain information and to harass the Japanese south of Maungdaw, to maintain amphibious forces in the Naaf river. Motor launches frequently took part in these operations as escorts. The amphibious force consisted of the 290th Special Purpose Company under the command of Major Fairbanks, (christened by the sailors “Binks’ Navy”) and also some RIN landing craft. The company transport consisted of five very ancient Indian Water Transport Steamers, armed with anti-tank guns mounted on wheels with Bren guns as anti-aircraft defence. The Commando was composed mainly of Pathans of the XV Corps and their own landing craft using Fleming lifeboats. The RIN component was part of a landing craft wing force which had first arrived in the Arakan waters in December 1943, its strength being then 21st LCP(L) Flotilla, and 42nd and 47th LCM Flotillas. At the end of January some of the L.C.Ps had been employed in maintaining communications between the XV Corps at Bawli Bazaar, and the 5th Indian Division, located in and around Maungdaw, some twelve miles to the south. Subsequently they had been employed with the 81st (West African) Recce Regiment, and they were now seconded to assist the amphibious forces.
On the night of 12 February, the 290th Special Purpose Company was to convey two parties of the 81st West African Recce Regiment and V Force scouts from Maungdaw to Indin beach. ML 413 was detailed to stand by to assist, and when the second steam launch, Kanayki did not arrive, ML 413 undertook her duties and embarked a raiding party. Thereafter ML 413 and the steam launch Damodar proceeded in company to a point three miles south of Sitaparokia Rock, and at 2322 the raiding party embarked in one Fleming lifeboat and proceeded ashore, ML 413 anchoring seven cables off the beach. The Commandos had a successful time ashore, though the total Japanese casualties amounted to only five. The raiding force eventually embarked in ML 413 and returned to Teknaaf.
Next day ML 413 was again busy with the 290th Special Purpose Company, the object being to raid the coast in the area of Donbaik to obtain hostile information. A Commando party was landed, and in due course returned after completing its job.
On 13 February, 3 Landing Craft Personnel (Large) took part in a raid on Maugkandan and the village of Dodan at the mouth of the Naaf River. Three parties of West Africans were embarked at dusk at Kappagaung, together with local guides. Just before reaching the selected landing point, the craft encountered an underwater wire, carrying a number of small grenades, but this was successfully negotiated, and the beach was reached without being molested. The landing party was put ashore, and the three L.C.Ps lay off-shore to await events. A lone Japanese bomber spotted them in the light of a bright moon, arid dropped three bombs, but no damage was done. Soon after dawn, the raiding party returned to the shore.
Bombardment of Akyab Island
On 22 February, the whole ML Force was concentrated at Teknaaf. As the army required at this stage to keep as many Japanese occupied on the coast as possible, it was decided to carry out on the night of 26 and 27 February a large-scale bombardment of Akyab Island. Ten boats (MLs 474, 440, 441, 475, 476, 438, 412, 416, 380 and 831) all under the command of Lt. Cdr. H. M. Darbyshire, RINVR, took part. The boats had an uneventful passage to Akyab and at 2300 opened fire together. Opposition consisted of machine-gun fire from the shore, and a certain amount of shell fire which was probably 75-mm. No damage or casualties were sustained, and the beach area was well plastered. The Force returned to Teknaaf on the 27th.
Early in March, operation “BIRDSEED” commenced. It was intended to interrupt any Japanese sea traffic in the vicinity of Ramree Harbour, and for this purpose two Forces were employed. The first, from the 55th ML Flotilla, was made up of MLs 438, 476, 440 and 477, and the second Force from the 56th ML Flotilla comprised MLs 412 and 417. The 55th ML Flotilla proceeded on 2 March and in due course entered Heywood Channel. ML 477 was detached with orders to enter Ramree Harbour, and the other boats commenced a patrol between Round Island and Sagu Island. From this time until early on 30 March a number of small craft and two fairly large fishing boats were intercepted. The crews
were taken prisoners and the boats sunk; the prisoners consisted mainly of Burmese whose duties were to ferry cargoes of vegetables to the Japanese garrisons on Round Island.
It had been arranged to rendezvous with the 56th Flotilla off Round Island at midnight, but, as these boats had not appeared by 0025 the motor launches re-formed and proceeded to Ramree Gates to establish contact with ML 477. This boat was not observed, and in actual fact her Commanding Officer, Lt. A. H. Russel RINVR, having been able to enter Ramree Harbour without opposition, had taken the law in his own hands and was conducting a single-boat war of penetration. He succeeded in steaming right up Ramree harbour to a position opposite Ramree town, a distance of some 16 miles.
Meanwhile the 56th Flotilla boats, MLs 412 and 417, had been carrying out a sweep down the west side of Ramree Island. At 2355, about 1½ miles north-east of Ramree Island, a small country craft was sighted. Its five occupants, who were engaged in supplying Japanese garrisons with provisions, were taken on board ML 417, which took the boat in tow. The Force now proceeded along the southern patrol line towards Sagu Island, but no other ships were sighted. Course was altered to proceed back to base. The total result of the operation was as follows:–
ML 438 sank two boats and captured 12 prisoners; ML 478 sank three boats and brought back seven prisoners; and ML 417 sank one boat and brought back five prisoners.
Interrupting Japanese Supplies
The prisoners were handed over to the Army Intelligence for questioning, and information of considerable value was obtained. It indicated that the Japanese traffic from Rangoon to the Mayu Peninsula was carried out entirely by inland waterways. Headquarters of what might be called the Japanese inland water transport were reported to be situated at Tamandu, from which place traffic proceeded through Myebon and Minchaung, and thence to Akyab. From Akyab the main channel of supply was the Kaladan River, and by Chaung to the Mayu River.
In order to cut this line of communications it was considered that the area between Gwa and Andrews Bay would be most favourable, as at this point it would be necessary for the Japanese to go into the open sea. A combined force of eight MLs (412, 416, 417, 440, 441, 439, 476 and 438) of the 55th and 56th Flotillas therefore
proceeded on operation “CORKSCREW” which began on 7 March. The unit proceeded uneventfully as far as Gwa Bay, with the object of attacking any craft which might be found there, and of bombarding the shore installations. However, no targets were found inside the Bay and the Japanese made no attempt to attack the launches, although the force was less then a mile from the shore.
MLs 438 and 440 approached Andrews Bay from the south-west, and while crossing Sandoway Bay three small fishing boats were sighted and sunk. Intelligence had reported a gun sited in the vicinity of the Jetty, but this could not be seen, and range was therefore opened to 800 yards and a general bombardment carried out. A certain amount of opposition was experienced, but this was silenced after the first ten minutes, and the whole ML Force returned safely to the Naaf River on 8 March.
A Combined Raid
On 11 March, a combined force of the 55th and 56th ML Flotillas and Landing Craft carried out operation “SCREWDRIVER”, with the aim of destroying a Japanese Advanced Headquarters which was reported to be situated at the base Sitaparokia Rock. The operation fell into two parts: the first involved an assault by 44 (Marine) Commando on Alethangyan airstrip and village and was to by followed by the second part, an assault two days later in the same area by the 5th Army Commando.
It was intended to use St. Martin’s Island, some eight miles from the mouth of the River Naaf, in the role of a Landing Ship Infantry, and to embark troops from here into L.C.Ps, which were to beach at Alethangyan, south of the Chaung, on to an excellent beach. Accordingly, right under the eyes of the Japanese forces on the other side of the bank, the Commandos were moved out of St. Martin’s Island, and on the evening of 11 March, the convoy of 16 LCP(L)s and supporting MLs moved out of the anchorage down river at 10 knots. The convoy arrived off St. Martin’s Island in darkness, and almost immediately the L.C.Ps began to embark their serials from a beached LCP(R), the Marine Commando in the first wave.
Meanwhile MLs had already been busy earlier in the day, and had bombarded the Japanese Headquarters at Sitaparokia Rock, leaving one large and five small fires burning in the target area. At 0515, ML 412 came under fire from a light gun which appeared to be sited to the north-east of the rock. Fire was not accurate, and though the position was shelled by 2-pounder and 3-pounder
guns, results could not be observed, and it was considered probable that little inconvenience had been caused on either side.
The landing at Alethangyan was made successfully. Apart from a few snipers, there was no opposition on the beach itself but, from inshore, could be heard the chatter of machine-guns and the dull thud of mortars. Four craft were hit and were beached, disabled; during the night their crews took part in the perimeter defence of the beachhead and conducted patrols. Next day, these four craft were repaired and refloated, the Commando was re-embarked under cover of fire from MLs 416 and 417, and the whole Force returned to Teknaaf.
The second assault was carried out in broad daylight. As the original beach chosen was under Japanese mortar fire, a second beach was selected at Ton Chaung. The first and second flights had to negotiate a sandbar before getting ashore, but at 1100 on the 14th the first troops of 44 Commando were landed without opposition, and the remainder were disembarked at leisure behind the cover of sand dunes and trees.
The following day, the Landing Craft Personnel and two Landing Craft Mechanized were employed in the difficult task of evacuating the wounded through fairly heavy surf; several craft broached to, and the L.C.Ps which attempted to tow the stranded craft off came under Japanese fire from mortars, and. 35-mm guns. Four motor launches were therefore called out at short notice to assist. ML 476 laid a smoke screen, and the other three MLs were eventually able to tow off all the landing craft and escort them back to the Naaf river.
Last Operations of the Season
Weather was then deteriorating, and it was decided to withdraw all except a few HDMLs on 23 March. On 17 March, MLs 412, 419 and 417 sailed for a last long range operation with Gwa as the objective. The Bay was well searched but the Force drew a blank, and it was decided to attempt to enter the river. Shallow water prevented this, and it was decided to bombard Coconut Point and the village beyond, from this position. This was successfully carried out, and the village was well covered by gun and mortar fire. As soon as the bombardment opened, the boats were heavily and accurately engaged by Japanese mortars, sited on either side of the river entrance and on South Point. Several near misses were suffered by ML 417, and a lively engagement developed in which the shore guns were eventually silenced. It appeared that
the Japanese had reacted since the lost visit of the MLs. and had been provided with reasonably strong defences, which on this occasion were well handled. It was probably fortunate that there was insufficient water to enable the boats to navigate the river, as otherwise it appeared that the boats would have been drawn into a well-set trap.
During the return trip an army 97 aircraft was sighted, and at 1141 it made a bombing run. ML 412 was the target, and the bomber made a high level attack, releasing four bombs from about 6,000 feet. Only two of the bombs exploded, falling one on either quarter about 70 and 100 yards away. ML 412 was not damaged, and it was impossible to retaliate as the aircraft was well out of range.
The operational season was brought to a close by operation “Curtain”, a three-Flotilla bombardment of the coast between Indin and Mayu point. The 56th Flotilla was represented by MLs 412, 419, 416 and 417 (Lt. A. J. Howard RINVR), the 49th (South African) Flotilla by MLs 380, 381, 382 and 846 under Lt. D. R. Hollis, SANF(V), and the 55th Flotilla by MLs 439, 441, 476 and 477 under Lt. Cdr. H. M. Darbyshire RINVR The three forces proceeded independently, each with its own objective. A number of fires were started up and down the coast, although little opposition was encountered apart from a certain amount of sporadic machine-gunning from positions ashore.
Before closing this account a word might be said about ML 477 and ML 474 (Lt. K. J. Baber RINR). These boats were mainly employed on long range jobs of a secret nature, many of which necessitated 4 and 5 days at sea in hostile waters, and the carrying on deck of large quantities of fuel, the hazards of which need not be stressed. On one occasion ML 477 was bombed by 12 Bombers and Fighter Bombers, but escaped unscathed. On a similar errand ML 477 made contact with an Akyab sloop, a sailing vessel of some 60 to 80 feet in length. The ML ran alongside the craft, and a boarding party went on board to search the vessel. This party was immediately attacked by machine-gun and tommy-gun fire from aft, one rating being killed and six wounded. ML 474 therefore disengaged and sank the vessel by gun fire.
For the season’s work the RIN was awarded 2 Distinguished Service Crosses and 5 Distinguished Service Medals and 9 officers and 4 ratings were mentioned in the Despatches.1
On 23 March the whole force was withdrawn and dispersed to Indian ports for refit, leaving HDMLs 1118, 1119 and 1120 as river patrols in the Naaf, based at Tombru. At the same time all Landing Craft were withdrawn with the exception of 6 LCP(L)s, which were retained for use by the I Corps Commander. This detachment remained in the Arakan throughout the monsoon, and carried on a mail and ferry service up and down the Naaf river covering on an average 70 miles each day.
* During this period of operations LCMs of 42 and 47 Flotillas gave valuable aid to XV Corps by ferrying stores between Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar. They also assisted in the evacuation of the wounded further south. The HDMLs which had been left in Burmese waters did not allow the Japanese to forget that the RIN was still interested in them and they carried out a number of bombardments in the southern reaches of the Naaf river. On 28 July, HDML 1118 was engaged by Japanese 75-mm guns situated on the Mayu range south of Maungdaw. A number of near misses . were suffered, and although the range was too great for the HDMLs’ guns, army batteries were able to reply effectively. On 12 August, at 2300 while this HDML was patrolling the entrance of the Naaf River, a country craft was sighted, and as this area was prohibited traffic after sunset, the boat was ordered to stop. Instead of complying, the country craft increased speed and a burst of machine-gun fire across her bows greeted the challenge. Fire was thereafter opened on the country craft, which settled rapidly. On 12 September 1944, Lt. K. P. Nair RINVR Was patrolling in the same HDML, in the vicinity of St. Martin’s Island, and at about five in the evening he dropped anchor off the north-east corner of the Island. The HDML’s officers proceeded ashore to contact the local inhabitants, who reported that an aircraft had crashed about 2 miles south. The ML therefore proceeded with all speed to this position, and found a Spitfire which had made forced landing on the fore-shore. The pilot was rescued, and was landed next day at Kappagaung.
On the same 12 September, HDMLs 1118, 1119 and 1120 were ordered to stand by in support of the army south of Maungdaw, and early on the morning of the 13th the boats were in position approximately half a cable off shore. Patrols were carried out to the mouth of the Naaf river and in the area of Ton Chaung. At first no hostile activity was apparent, but shortly after mid-day, Japanese shore batteries hotly engaged the HDMLs from the
foothills, and the boats were straddled. One shell fell close astern of HDML 1119, badly wounding the Oerlikon gunner. Again it was impossible to hit back except via the army, and although violent evasive action was taken, two more casualties occurred, while in the meantime the gunner died of his wounds.
On 17 October, HDML 1120 was ordered out on an air-sea rescue operation. The operation lasted for six days and was supported by some eight RAF Liberators, but the search proved fruitless.
The RAF Attack
Earlier in the month, on 7 October, a most unfortunate incident took place in the Naaf River. HDMLs 1118 and 1119 were lying at anchor off Maungdaw when two Spitfires were sighted approaching from the south, the aircraft being recognised as friendly. Shortly afterwards, the Spitfires, apparently mistaking the identity of the craft, heavily attacked the boats with cannon and machinegun fire. Two officers and seven ratings were killed, four officers and fourteen ratings wounded, and HDML 1119 was sunk. HDML 1118 was badly damaged and had to be patched up at Tombru before proceeding to Calcutta for proper repairs.
Coastal Forces Re-Assemble
While these operations were in progress the 56th ML Flotilla, having completed its refit, was working up at Vizagapatam, and the 55th ML Flotilla was at Trincomalee and later at Colombo. The boats had been slightly modified in the light of operational experience, and Bofors guns had been fitted in place of the after Oerlikon. The 55th Flotilla had been strengthened by the commissioning of MLs 390 and 844, and was shortly afterwards to be joined by ML 843, bringing it up to full strength.2
Coastal forces again assembled in Chittagong during the first week of October 1944 and included the 56th ML Flotilla (Lt. Commander A. J. Howard RINVR), the 55th Flotilla (Lt. Commander T. H. L. Macdonald, DSC, RINVR), the 49th (South African) ML Flotilla (Lt. G. Milne SANF(V) and the 59th (Royal Navy) ML Flotilla (Lt. Commander A Campbell, DSC, BRNVR). HMIS Barracuda, commanded by Lt. Commander J. H. Zappert, RINR, was the main base ship together with HMS Kedah (Lt. Commander Allan, RNR). A
new arrival was a fleet tender, F.T. 14, with Lt. J. J. Julings, RNR in Command, and also present were HMI Ships Sabari and Lady Myrtle, two small tankers which had been taken over in 1943 from the Burmah Shell Oil Company as forward fuelling tankers. These two little ships were deserving of special mention. They were specially hard worked, for they had to follow the M. L. Flotillas and Landing Craft, wherever they went; without oil and petrol there could be no operations. Owing to the nature of their cargo no cooking was possible on board, and no smoking could de permitted. All food was of the tinned variety and the crews of the two boats achieved special distinction, in that Government sanction was obtained for a special ration scale to be issued to them.
Operations were commanded by Commander R. R. W. Ashby DSC, RNVR, with the title of Senior Officer Arakan Coastal Forces. His headquarters were in HMS kedah, and his staff were Lt. A. G. T. Dane RIN as Staff Officer, Operations, Lt. P.C. Pinfield RINVR as Signal Officer and Lt. Mc. P. W. Greenhill, RNVR as Intelligence Officer. The whole force was “under the command of Captain John Ryland, RIN, as Captain, Coastal Forces, while the planning of Naval Operations at Corps level was in the hands of Rear Admiral B. C. S. Martin, CBE, DSO, RN, and his Staff, with Captain D.C. Hill, RN working at Divisional level.
The main base remained HMIS Patunga at Chittagong, commanded by Lt. Cdr. H. Revell RINVR During the monsoon the advance base at Teknaaf had been vastly improved, water had been laid down to the Jetty, and a pontoon landing stage and a basha camp were constructed.
The original programme was for one flotilla to be operationally based in the Naaf, a second flotilla to support it, if necessary, from Chittagong, while the third flotilla continued working up.
New Season’s Tasks
The operations were planned and carried out mainly on information received from XV Corps, and were designed to disrupt Japanese communications from the Naaf river southwards to the farthest extent. When the campaign opened in October 1944, the Japanese forces were holding the whole of the Arakan coast up to and including two miles of the left bank of the Naaf river. The duties of Coastal Force craft were to penetrate Japanese-held harbours and inland waterways and to interrupt supply routes, and to endeavour to retain Japanese forces on the coast so that the Fourteenth
Army could drive forward to Mandalay and thereafter to Rangoon. A glance at the map will show the vastness of this undertaking. Little if any information was available with regard to Japanese coastal defences, but the ML Force was largely successful in obtaining this information by the simple method of persuading Japanese batteries to fire on the boats.
As the army pressed forward along the coast it was necessary to support each movement with motor launches and to cover the army’s flanks from surprise attacks by Japanese water-borne forces. The campaign proceeded in four distinct stages – first the capture of Akyab, second of Myebon, third of Ramree Island, and fourth of Tangup.
Little or nothing was known regarding the many and varied inland waterway channels. Army ordnance maps were the only guide, and intrusive operations had to be carried out using these maps and keeping careful navigational notes for subsequent surveys.
At this period also the RIN Landing Craft Wing was beginning to concentrate in the Arakan. In September 1944 the first small party had left for Chittagong, and a month later Nos. 21 and 23 LCP Flotillas, No. 44 LCM Flotilla, No. 1 LCA Flotilla and ‘A’ Beach Commando moved south into the Naaf River. They were housed in basha huts and tents in paddy fields on the edge of the river, in clean and fertile country. No. 1 LCA Flotilla left for Rhegn Chaung, where they trained with the 26th Indian Division, and worked on combined operations pilotage duties in preparation for future operations.
The Campaign Opens
The honour of opening the season’s campaign fell to the 56th ML Flotilla, and on 13 October 1944, ML 413 left Chittagong with a small party of army officers whose object was to land on Foul Island and rescue any air force personnel who might have found refuge there. At about 1400 on 14 October, the army party was ready for landing. The ML anchored off the north-east corner of the island, about one cable off the beach, and put the troops ashore. The whole island was combed without result, and shortly before six the landing party returned on board and course was set for Oyster Island. On the 15th this island was circumnavigated without sighting any signs of human habitation, and ML 413 returned to base at Chittagong on the 16th.
The previous day, two boats, ML 412 and ML 390, under the command of Lt. Comdr. A. J. Howard had embarked a Special Boat Section Party, and proceeded from Chittagong to carry out a reconnaissance of Japanese positions on Ramree Island. The weather grew steadily worse, with an overcast sky and intermittent rain, as the unit proceeded south, but late in the afternoon it improved to the westward. At 1800 when the landing position was being approached, the boats were silhouetted perfectly against the western sky, while heavy dark clouds hung over Ramree Island. Under these conditions, it was considered likely that the Force would be observed, and it was therefore decided to sacrifice part of the time ashore in order to facilitate an unobserved approach.
The motor launch passed undetected within 1½ miles of Rocky Point, and ML 412 anchored a mile off shore with ML 390 further out to the eastward so as to cover the approach from that side. The Special Boat Section, consisting of a Major and five other ranks, set out by 2130 but was delayed by heavy surf among the rocks, and did not manage to land until four hours later, returning shortly before dawn. There was some difficulty in contacting the party on their return, as they came out three miles to the westward, but they were eventually picked up. The only sign of Japanese interest throughout the whole operations was a green very light fired from Rocky Point as the MLs withdrew.
Operation “RATHUNT” commenced on 27 October under the command of Lt. Commander A. J. Howard, with MLs 412, 413, 419 and 844 sailing from St. Martin’s Island just after midnight. Unfortunately early next morning ML 412 was disabled by a fractured exhaust pipe, and had to return to base, but the rest of the force continued, and Foul Island was sighted just before dusk on the . 28th.
At six in the evening course was set to close Gwa at 12 knots but by 1830 a heavy rainstorm had obscured the coastline, and as it was considered impracticable to enter Gwa Bay under such conditions, the motor launches stopped and waited for the weather to clear. About 2020 it was possible to proceed and some 19 minutes later Gwa Bay was entered in close formation. A green signal flare was immediately fired from the hill opposite the entrance. No craft of any kind could be seen either in the Bay or in the Chaung to the south, but in the north-east corner four fishing canoes were seen paddling vigorously towards the eastern shore. One was overtaken before it could reach the shallows, and the occupant,
a Burmese, was brought on board. He declared that he knew nothing of any Japanese naval craft in the area, but stated that there were many guns around the southern beach; this area was accordingly closed, but no one was persuaded to take a shot at the naval force whose presence must by this time have been known.
At 2245 the unit left Gwa Bay and proceeded to sweep northward up the coast in extended port quarter line at 12 knots. Very shortly afterwards, ML 844 reported striking a submerged object, and was forced to stop one engine; she was therefore ordered to carry on independently to a previously arranged rendezvous position, it was the intention to enter Andrews Bay and to carry out a bombardment of the Jetty area, and by 0300 Money Point was reached without sighting any craft. The moon had then set, and visibility was so poor that considerable difficulty was experienced in entering Andrews Bay. Once inside, the Bay was searched in vain for shipping and the force stopped opposite Lontha Jetty at 0355. A Holman Flare showed up the Jetty area at about 600 yards range, and there appeared to be a few small boats lying up on the beach. The area was bombarded for 15 minutes and fire was well concentrated. ML 844 was overtaken on the 28th and anchor was dropped off St. Martin’s Island just after dark.
Air Sea Rescue
During these weeks the 55th ML Flotilla had carried out an extensive working up programme, and on 4 November a report was received that a Flying Fortress had crashed into the sea about 110 miles south of Bassein Point. HDMLs 1120 and 1116 had already been stationed to meet just such an emergency in the area west of Cheduba Island. It was then decided to augment the search with two boats of the 55th Flotilla, and on the 4th ML 438 and 477 proceeded to the search area. By the afternoon of 6 November an area of some 1,600 square miles had been searched without result, and as the unit was running short of fuel, it was necessary to return to base which was reached on 7 November, after completing a trip of 990 miles. It was actually found on arrival in harbour that the HDMLs had been successful in picking up all but one member of the crew of the American aircraft.
Air Attack Again
The next operation was known as “SCUPPER” and was planned to sweep the coast of Burma from Cape Negrais northward to Gwa. Lt. Commander A. J. Howard was once again in-charge, and on 9 November he sailed with MLs 412, 419 and 413. Course was
set from the Naaf River well clear of any possible observation from land, and the search was uneventful until 1720 on 10 November when the unit was circled by one Dinah aircraft which kept well out of range. It was thought unlikely that the Japanese would be able to issue a warning in time to stop any coast-wise shipping which might be leaving Bassein after dark, and consequently no change in plan was made. At 1800 course was altered to close the coast, and at 2000 the Force reached a position some five miles south of Cape Negrais and began to follow the coast line northward.
By 0420 on 11 November the motor launches were one mile west of Gwa Island. The harbour entrance was closed but no ships were seen, and course was therefore shaped for base. At 1213 the unit was attacked by two Lily aircraft simultaneously. The first plane attacked from the starboard quarter and straddled ML 419 with two bombs, one member of the Bofors crew being wounded in the leg by machine-gun fire. This aircraft circled and attacked again from the port beam, and this time one bomb exploded on the port side of ML 419 and the other bounced over the motor launch and failed to explode. Meanwhile the second plane attacked ML 412 from the port bow, dropping two bombs which landed 20 yards off but did not explode. The aircraft also put a machine-gun bullet into the wheelhouse and, carrying on, missed the stern of ML 413 and dropped a bomb in her wake. All the attacks were carried out at Zero feet, and were pressed home with great determination in the face of heavy fire from the motor launch. The technique employed was skip bombing, and impressed all hands as being highly dangerous, although it had the compensation of being equally unpleasant for the attackers.
During the attack one aircraft was repeatedly hit by both 412 and 413 and the other received damage from 419 and 412, and was seen to enter the water with a great splash about 12 cables on the unit’s starboard quarters, while the other plane was found to be smoking from its starboard engine. During the engagement Fighter cover (P. 38s of the USAAF) which had been previously arranged, arrived, and the remaining plane was chased out of sight and shot down.
Landing Craft Commando Raids
During this time the RIN Landing Craft had been carrying out their first operation of the season. A Landing Craft Personnel from 21 Flotilla took part in a raid on Elizabeth Island, nearly 60 miles south of Akyab. A troop of 42 (Royal Marine) Commando embarked in a South African motor launch and after steaming south \
throughout the day they arrived at 2300 in Hunter’s Bay, off the north coast of Elizabeth Island. The purpose of the raid was to obtain prisoners and to try to ascertain the whereabouts of a RNVR officer lost on a previous reconnaissance raid in this area. The area off the beach was full of uncharted rocks and shoals, and was surrounded on three sides by tall commanding cliffs, and jungle-covered hills. As the Landing Craft Personnel was heading for the beach with the Commandos aboard, what appeared to be a large Japanese Sampan was sighted off shore. It was decided to attack. At full speed the Landing Craft Personnel approached the supposed hostile craft, and 10 yards short the Coxswain received orders to stop. The LCP missed striking the dark shape narrowly which was actually a rock. The craft continued to the beach and disembarked the commando party.
The Landing Craft Personnel anchored off-shore while the raiding party operated on the Island. About 0200 the Landing Craft Personnel went inshore to re-embark the party, but the propeller was badly fouled by a wire rope when only about half had been embarked. The craft was paddled clear of the rocks, and the crew stripped, and with a hacksaw began to cut away the rope. This took some 40 minutes, while the party ashore had been sending emergency signals for some time. The Japanese were approaching closer and could then be plainly heard, but in the end the remaining Commandos were successfully re-embarked with their prisoner After reaching the motor launch volunteers were called for to return and find one missing man. The craft returned, but after searching the beach it was decided that the man was not there, and the craft returned to the ML The Landing Craft Personnel was then taken in tow, and Teknaaf was reached late in the afternoon.
On 15 November, ML 412 and 413, embarked a Special Boat Section party and proceeded with two LCPs in tow. It was intended to land this party in Cheduba Straits, which were entered at 2016 without incident, and course was set to close Button Island, and from there landfall was made 1J miles west, the ML anchoring in four fathoms one mile off Uga Chaung. The Special Boat Section left the ship shortly before 2200 and soon afterwards a green flare was seen, and a beacon fire was it on a neighbouring hill. It was obvious that the Japanese were not asleep.
At 2248 the landing party returned. They stat ed that they had closed the beach by the breakwater off Uga Chaung and had then proceeded to the landing position 200 yards to the west-ward. Immediately after the party landed, the green flare had been seen
and a man was observed patrolling the beach. The landing party provided sufficient information of hostile positions to justify a bombardment, and at 2320 fire was opened with all guns. No return fire was observed on this occasion, and half-an-hour after midnight the unit cleared Cheduba Straits and returned to the advanced base at Teknaaf.
A further operation on these lines was conducted by MLs 416 and 843. On this occasion the landing area was in the vicinity of Indin and information of considerable value was obtained.
The 56th Flotilla had then a fairly long stretch of continuous operations, and it was time for them to withdraw and return to Madras for six weeks refit. The 49th Flotilla (South African) took over offensive duties in the Naaf River, with the 55th Flotilla in reserve at chittagong, and this was the position at the end of November.
55th Flotilla Resumes
In order to enliven the working up programme being carried out by the 55th M. L. Flotilla, a bombardment operation was allotted to this unit on 3 December, and MLs 474, 476, 477, 438 and 441 sailed at midnight from Chittagong, proceeding south of Cheduba Island. Landfall was made two miles south of Thames Point on Ramree Island, and as there was some time to spare, an offensive sweep was carried out into the narrows of Cheduba Straits. At 2045 the motor launches were engaged by a long range Japanese gun situated on Rocky Point, but the shooting was poor and caused no inconvenience, course and speed being maintained. At 2210 the narrows were entered without sighting any hostile shipping, and the force turned northwards to carry out bombardment of Minbyin. When some three miles south of Rocky Point, the Japanese again opened fire, and as the third shell fell just short of ML 474, course and speed were altered and the shelling ceased.
The target area was reached at 2340; the coast was closed to 800 yards and the bombardment continued for 20 minutes. At 0005, the cease fire was ordered, and the force returned to Chittagong on the 4th.
Then there ensued a period of comparative inactivity. The 36th RNML Flotilla joined the 55th in Chittagong, and two or three operations were carried out to harass the Japanese down the coast, in order to keep them busy, and allow the new boats to settle down.
On 13 December, MLs 438 and 441 arrived at Teknaaf before proceeding on an operation to capture a prisoner from the Taungup area, who could give information about Japanese movements. Three army officers and eight other ranks were embarked with three canoes on the 14th, and the Force sailed for St. Martin’s Island, where anchor was dropped for the night.
At 0330 on the morning of 15 December anchor was weighed, and the motor launches proceeded, adjusting course and speed to arrive off Unguan Island at last light. At 2215 the coast was closed in the vicinity of Bell Rock, and anchor was cast 1½ miles off the selected beach. 15 minutes later the army party embarked in their canoes and made for the beach, reporting their arrival by signal 75 minutes later. It had been arranged that ML 439 would burn a red masthead light from 0100 to 0130 to guide the party back to the boats. When by 0330 no sign of them had been evident considerable anxiety was felt. Every attempt was made to contact them, a red Aldis lamp being flashed through, and Very lights fired. As may be imagined the Japanese became extremely interested in this free fireworks display. However, this manoeuvre brought forth its results, and the army party eventually returned to the boats, having been misled by a white light which was burning from the masthead of a fishing dhow in the vicinity of Taungup Chaung. The party was successful in capturing a local Burman.
After the soldiers and their unfortunate prisoner had been re-embarked, the unit proceeded to engage the fishing vessel. At 0350 with soundings of two fathoms, fire was opened, and the light immediately extinguished. It was impossible to close the coast owing to shallow water, and the results of the bombardment could not be observed. Shortly afterwards course was set to leave the bay, and the Japanese engaged the unit with mortars and one long-range gun. No damage or casualties were sustained, and the motor-launches returned to base on the evening of the 16th.
On 21 December MLs 477, 847 and 855 (the last two boats belonging to the 36th Flotilla), carried out an offensive sweep from Gwa to Bluff Cape. No shipping was sighted, and it was decided to provoke attention by illuminating a section of the coast with flares and carrying out a three-minute bombardment. Nothing was seen and the force retired to Bluff Cape. Kyint Ala Creek was closed and a short bombardment carried out into the anchorage without
any results being observed. On the 22nd the MLs returned to Teknaaf.
The last operation for 1944 was carried out by MLs 439, 440 and 441. The Force sailed on 26 December at five in the evening, and twenty-four hours later Foul Island was abeam to starboard half-a-mile distant. Course was altered for Bluff Cape, and a sweep was carried out up the coast to Honan Gon point. Andrews Bay was entered and a search carried out inside the Bay to within 1½ miles of Transit Hill. The main target for the night was Lontha Jetty, and this was closed at 2245. The three motor launches bombarded the area of the jetty and Customs House in turn, and also a small building on the foreshore which was unmistakably a Japanese shelter. The fall of shot was well concentrated in the target area. Course was set for Chittagong which was reached at midnight on the 28th.
The Assault on Akyab
On 27 December 1944, at midnight, Commander G. T. Moger, OBE, RIN, Senior Officer, Minor Landing Craft, summoned all Landing Craft officers commanding flotillas or squadrons to his tent, and informed them that at last the day had arrived for a major effort. After brief instructions the officers were dismissed, and by 0400 on 28 December the first LCA Flotilla was making its way down the Karnaphuli river, securing to the Naaf river buoys at 1800. The anchorage began to fill up quickly as RIN and Royal Marine Landing Craft Mechanized, Landing Craft Assault and other craft arrived in a long unending stream. Destroyers, sloops, British Yard Mine Sweepers and Coastal Force craft began to appear out of the blue.
On 30 December, the Senior Officer, 55th ML Flotilla, received a signal ordering him to prepare forthwith for sea, and to sail at dawn on the 31st for Teknaaf. The whole Flotilla sailed as ordered, and arrived at the advanced base on the same evening.
The New Year was celebrated quietly, with feelings of tense expectation, and on 1 January 1945 all senior officers were ordered ashore to be briefed, and it then became known that a large scale assault on Akyab was to take place at dawn on 3 January. This represented a change of plan, for the original assault on Akyab had been timed for a later date, coinciding with the expected arrival of the 74th Indian Infantry Brigade of the 25th Indian Division (then advancing down the Mayu Peninsula) at Foul Point (opposite Akyab). As Japanese resistance grew progressively weaker,
however, it was estimated that the 74th Brigade would be able to arrive at Foul Point on 30 December, and it was therefore decided to take advantage of the situation, and attack immediately. The following Flotillas were at that time in the Naaf river – 49th ML Flotilla, 36th ML Flotilla, 55th ML Flotilla. Fleet Tender 14 had been converted for duties as Headquarters Ship, as HMS Kedah and HMIS Barracuda were considered to be too valuable as supply and base ships for this duty.
At 2000 Senior Officers of motor-launch flotillas, together with Commanding Officers of individual boats, congregated in F.T. 14’s diminutive operations room. Each motor launch was given specific duties, some for close support to Landing Craft, others as navigational aids; and a reserve striking force was also allocated.
Meanwhile the Landing Craft were preparing in a frantic hurry. Operation “LIGHTNING” as the assault was called, was well named, for there was scarcely time to issue operational orders and do all that was necessary before Zero hour. Numbers were painted on the Craft in chalk, mud or the closest available fluid; and scraps of material were hurriedly made into usable stores.
At dawn on 2 January Lt. Cdr. T. H. L. Macdonald DSC, RINVR, in ML 439 proceeded to the mouth of the Mayu River in order to lay danbuoys as guides for the next day’s landing. The Navigating Officer from one of H.M. destroyers was detailed as Survey Officer. The buoys were successfully laid, and great surprise was experienced as ML 439 remained in sight of the Japanese battery positions half a mile distant without being engaged.
On the morning of 2 January scores of Landing Craft Assault were busy transferring the assault force from the American shore pontoon at Teknaaf to destroyers, sloops, and motor launches. Landing Craft Mechanized and Tank Landing Craft loaded tanks alongside the jetty, and Landing Craft Personnel raced round the harbour delivering last-minute instructions to ships. At 1100 a long line of craft and ships began steaming out towards St. Martin’s Island, anchoring as they reached a point some three miles south of the island. By nightfall, the ships were all assembled, and at 0400 the convoy and the Bombardment Force (HMS Newcastle, HMS Phoebe and four destroyers) began their journey down the coast towards Akyab. At 1100 on 3 January the release position was reached, and the assault, timed for 1230, went off without a hitch. Information had been received earlier that morning that
Akyab Island had been evacuated by the Japanese, and the bombardment plans were cancelled.
After the initial landing a ferry service was begun, lifting the 74th Brigade from Foul Point on the mainland to Akyab Island. Landing Craft Mechanized carried the burden of the load and worked without a break until the stores of the whole brigade had been transferred. The beaches at Foul Point were under the control of officers from “A” Beach Commando RIN
Lack of opposition could not detract from the achievement of planning, mounting and execution of the operation in six days. For most of the Landing Craft crews, as for the troops, it was their first Combined Operation.. Some of the Royal Marine Landing Craft personnel had in fact, only arrived from India and the United Kingdom on the day previous to the mounting.
Blockade of Kaladan
On 3 January the 55th ML Flotilla was sent to blockade the Myebon area, as it had been reported that the Japanese leaving Akyab Island were escaping to the south-east across the Kaladan river. MLs 477, 476, 438 and 439 sailed at 1808 and arrived at the mouth of the Sakaen river at midnight. MLs 477 and 476 anchored in the mouth of the river about 2 cables apart, while 438 and 439 were allotted the Myebon river and anchored east of the Myebon Peninsula.
Nothing was contacted during the first part of the night but at 0500 on 4 January ML 439 reported the Japanese to be in sight and all boats slipped and proceeded to investigate. The enemy, however, proved to be only a sampan with three fishermen who were duly captured while making efforts to escape. At daylight the Senior Officer ordered ML 439 to return to base with the prisoners for interrogation, while the remainder of the force withdrew slightly to a position one mile west of Sigyat, in order to observe as large an area as possible. There was no sign of the Japanese force during daylight.
At five in the evening, ML 438 was detached to blockade the Myebon river, while MLs 477 and 476 proceeded down the Sakaen river as far as its junction with the Lemru river. Nothing was sighted on the outward journey, but while the force was returning two buoys which had been spotted earlier were investigated, and were found to be buoys for a hawser boom stretched three-quarters of the way across the river. The buoys were brought on board and the boon} destroyed. At 1830 ML 439 re-joined, and the four
vessels took up night dispositions across the mouth of the Sakaen river. Again nothing was sighted during the night, and at five On the morning of the 5th, the Force withdrew to the previous day’s anchorage. During the day ML 439 surveyed the channel east of the Myebon Peninsula for a distance of four miles, while MLs 438 and 476 remained at anchor and 477 proceeded to investigate Myebon Creek, and to remove a small portion of the river boom which had escaped attention the previous night.
RAF Attack Again
Shortly before 1100 five aircraft were sighted over the Myebon river. At the same time ML 439 reported that she was being engaged from the beach by rifle and machine-gun fire. At 1050, 439 reported having been attacked by aircraft and as having sustained both casualties and damage. 438 and 476 were immediately despatched to her assistance, and it transpired that ML 439 had sustained three casualties due to shots from the shore, and while she was replying to this, four RAF planes in the vicinity had apparently considered the fire to be directed at them and had attacked. Twenty-one cannon shells from the aircraft had penetrated 439’s hull, and she was making water fast. Luckily the aircraft had immediately realised their error. Temporary repairs were carried out to ML 439, and the Force withdrew on being relieved by four boats of the 49th Flotilla.
Landing Craft Base
The Landing Craft in Akyab in the meantime had moved into the Satyogya Chaung, a deep creek on the north-east side of Akyab with steep banks winding through a mass of damaged buildings, derelict rice mills and tumble-down jetties, and the personnel settled into these “billets” adjoining the Chaung.
HMIS Narbada & HMIS Jumna In Action
The two sloops, Narbada (Captain H. M. St. L. Nott, OBE, RIN) and the Jumna (Commander K. R. U. Todd, RIN) had sailed from Chittagong five minutes before midnight on the 3rd, and arrived at Akyab at 1345 on the 4th, anchoring between the main jetty and the wreck of HMIS Indus. They were among the first ships to enter the re-captured port, and at 1700 in the evening the Commanding Officers landed with the Captain, 7th Destroyer Flotilla, and inspected the town and beaches. They found the town empty and desolate while the beaches did not appear to have been in a proper state of defence for some time. Also in the harbour at
this period were HMAS Napier, HMAS Nepal (flying the flag of the Senior Officer, Force W) and HMS Shoreham.
Early on 5 January HMIS Jumna was sent to Teknaaf to bring up army stores and petrol and she returned on the 7th. Meanwhile an assault on the Baronga Islands was planned, and on 6 January HMIS Narbada had taken up a bombarding position off the entrance to the Kywegu river. It was later discovered that the Barongas had been evacuated, and the operation was therefore cancelled.
The scene of operations now shifted to the Kaladan river. On 7 January, the 53rd Indian Brigade had contacted Japanese forces northwards of Akyab, and more forces including a Headquarters were reported to be at Ponnagyun, 15 miles up the Kaladan river. It was therefore decided that the Narbada and the Jumna together with ML 381 and 829 should proceed up-river immediately in-order to prevent the escape of those Japanese forces to the east bank of the Kaladan, and that on the following day a battalion of the Garhwal Rifles should be landed to attack them. The naval forces proceeded up the Kaladan unmolested. No difficulty was experienced in navigation, the numerous pagodas making good landmarks. The ships arrived off Ponnagyun at 0430 on 7 January, turned to stem the flood tide, and anchored. The two motor launches were sent on a reconnaissance along the banks.
At 1440 fire was opened on the Jumna from the east bank, and at 1442 on the Narbada. The fire was from 3.37-mm anti-tank guns in the village of Nagawetswe, and at about 2,000 yards range was very accurate. The Jumna was hit twice immediately and the Narbada quickly straddled. Both ships weighed anchor and opened fire with their main armament. After two 6-gun salvoes from each ship, one gun was silenced and about a dozen men were observed running for cover inland. A third salvo silenced the remaining guns and more Japanese soldiers were seen in flight. The ships continued direct bombardment whenever the hostile personnel were seen until 1500.
During this short action, the two motor-launches had sighted a party of about 20-30 Japanese infantry on the west bank, whom they engaged with Bofors and 3 pounders. Later the Narbada and the Jumna joined them. The Japanese did not relish the fire at close range and disappeared in disorder into the jungle. At 1615 ML 829 was dispatched to make a reconnaissance W the beaches on the west bank, and it was decided that a landing would be effected at any point 2 miles north or south of Ponnagyun. An army
co-operation aircraft patrolled the area from 1415 to 1613 but the pilot caught only occasional glimpses of the Japanese, who had by then hidden in the thick jungle.
The Locals Arrive
At 1745 one of the motor launches brought on board a party of local Burmese and Arakanese, and with the aid of an Able Seaman loaned by the Burma RNVR, these villagers were questioned. Shortly afterwards other sampans bearing villagers arrived and about 30 local inhabitants including some ex-officials of the Burma Government came aboard. They were delighted to see the ships and willingly gave all possible information. They stated that Ponnagyun had been the headquarters of the Japanese Division; that there had been a general withdrawal by sampan and two or three large motor craft across the river from west to east during the previous three weeks; some 700 and 800 Japanese had crossed, taking some guns, one of the villagers stated that he had been supplying the Japanese Headquarters with fish. Most of the officers, he said, had left the previous day, but he had been to the Headquarters that morning and had seen one officer. He was at once appointed officiating bombardment liaison officer and a registration salvo was fired at his direction. By signs and interpretation the necessary spotting corrections were ascertained and applied, and some well-directed salvoes were then placed in the area.
During the night of 7 and 8 January, the motor launches were used to patrol the river for five miles north and south of Ponnagyun, and also up the Kaladan river. The sloops kept the banks and river under constant illumination with search lights, star shells and snowflake, and the motor launches with mortar flare and six-inch Aldis, so that no Japanese troops could cross the river that night. At about 2000 a few rifle shots were fired at the Narbada but a burst of pom-pom fire discouraged any further activity on the part of the Japanese. At daylight many villagers appeared on both banks waving white flags and reported that the Japanese had withdrawn inland. About 0900 (on 7 January) an observation aircraft arrived and located some hostile bunkers near Ponnagyun Pagoda, and these were effectively engaged.
Landing in the Kaladan
The assault was carried out on 8 January. There had been some delay in getting the troops into Akyab on the previous night, and so in embarking them in Landing Craft Assault, but at 1135 Brigadier Girtie arrived on board the Narbada by Harbour Defence
Motor Launch. It was decided to put the troops comprising one battalion of the Garhwal Rifles in at Nattseikkonbauk, and to advance up-river towards Uritaung and Ponnagyun. The assault was made by 20 Landing Crafts Assault supported by motor launches 381 and 820 at 1225. There was no opposition and the troops quickly occupied Uritaung. The Landing Craft Assault were then used to help them across Min Chaung and shortly afterwards they gained contact with the hostile force.
At this point HMIS Narbada was re-called to Akyab. HMIS Jumna remained in the Kaladan during the day and shelled Hinkaya in the evening. She returned to Akyab at noon on the night of the 8th.
Assault on Myebon
On her return to Akyab HMIS Narbada had been informed that it was intended to assault Myebon. The operation was to be under the joint command of a Naval Assault Commander (Captain M. H. St. L. Nott., RIN); an Army Assault Commander, (Brigadier Campbell Hardy, DSO, RM) and an Air Assault Commander Squadron (Leader D. T. Lees, RAF).
Brigadier Campbell Hardy and Sq Ldr Lees embarked at 1800, and the Narbada with ML 854 sailed for Frederick Island, anchoring about 1½ miles west of the Island at 2245 on the 8th. There was no chart of the Myebon river or its approaches north of Frederick Island. At 0600 the three assault commanders boarded ML 854. The channel towards Myebon was sounded by echo-sounders, and four danbuoys were laid to mark the best water. From this preliminary survey it was evident that it would be possible to bring the sloops in to about 8,000 yards from Myebon Peninsula, though this would involve the crossing of a long bar by night with only 13 feet of water over it.
ML 854 then stood in towards the Peninsula to examine the beaches. She proceeded within 300 yards of Charlie and Baker beaches, and had a clear view of the obstructions on the former beach, which consisted of a length of about 400 yards of large wooden stakes, about 10 inches in diameter and 15 feet high, and set 8 to 10 feet apart. After this examination ML 854 turned and proceeded down river, when the Japanese troops suddenly opened accurate 20-mm and machine-gun fire on her. The first shell struck the wheelhouse scuttle, passing through the wheelhouse and out the other side, a second passed through the engine-room and several
others hit the ship. ML 854 returned the fire with all her weapons, and apart from two injured by slight splinters, she sustained no casualties.
While the Narbada was returning to Akyab a formation of eight Japanese Zeros was sighted at 8,000 feet, approaching along the coast. It was at first thought that they were to attack the Narbada, but it soon became apparent that they were heading for Akyab. A warning was at once transmitted, with the result that ships there were ready to receive the Zeros on arrival. The Narbada opened fire with four-inch guns, but no hits were claimed.
The Narbada reached Akyab on the afternoon of the 9th, and early next morning a single Japanese aircraft flew low over the ship and dropped bombs on the Landing Craft base in Satyoga Creek, causing some casualties. One craft of the 41st LCM Flotilla was straddled by a stick of bombs, several ratings being killed and two officers wounded.
Plan of the Assault
The planning of the assault on Myebon was now being undertaken and it was decided that the only beach suitable for the assault was Charlie, as the other beaches had neither sufficient exits nor suitable terrain to establish beachheads. As there was an extensive mud flat off this beach, it was necessary for the assault to be made at, or just before, high water.
Final briefing took place on board the Narbada at 2000 on the 10th, and whole of the 11th was spent in loading. The 3rd Commando Brigade Headquarters, No. 42 Commando and No. 6 Mobile Surgical Unit (comprising 573 officers and men) were embarked in the Narbada, No. 5 Commando (about 450 men) in the Jumna, No. 44 Commando in 4 minesweepers, No. 1 Commando into LCIs, and tanks, vehicles, guns, bulldozers, and stores in Tank Landing Craft and Landing Craft Mechanized.
H-hour was 0830 on 12 January, and on that day the Narbada and the Jumna proceeded up channel to their bombarding positions, and HDML 1248 carried out a survey of the inner beaches inner harbour which proved invaluable.
The Convoy Sets Out
The convoy formed up at Akyab at 1700 on the 11th, consisted of ML 830 as navigational leader; LCMs 1-12, each towing one LCA; B.Y.MS. 2204 and 2148 each towing 3 LCAs. LCI(L)s 286, 265, and 287 each towing one LCS(M); LCTs 2320,
2444, 2435 and 2361 each towing one LCP; LCT 2450, and MMS 200 and 201. The convoy had a safe passage and was sighted from the Narbada anchored at the release position, at 0530 on 12 January.
Arrangements for disembarking troops into LCAs and LCMs from the two sloops worked well, and all troops were out of ships and into their craft, within 23 minutes after the first craft came alongside.
A Daring Operation
On the previous night a clever and daring operation had been carried out by ML 854. With a view to destroy beach obstacles three canoes were launched from this ML at low water at 0243 on the morning of the 12th. The canoes were paddled towards the wooden stakes on Charlie Beach. 25 two-pounder charges were connected to the stakes at mud level, in 3 ring mains of cortex; each ring main was primed with two delay pencils of six hours duration and initiated at 0001. The canoes then returned to the ML, which remained close inshore till 0630, when she reported that detonation had occurred, and that about 25 stakes had been destroyed.
The Army Goes Ashore
The first assault wave left the Narbada at 0720 and touched down exactly at 0830 and the second wave with Brigadier Hardy followed closely. No difficulty was experienced in passing through the gap in the stakes but shortly after deployment the craft came under fire, which was returned by supporting MLs and LCS (M)s. 2 LCAs, 1 LCP and 1 LCOCU were hit and suffered casualties.
The first wave quickly overcame opposition close to and on the beaches. Two casualties occurred due to the mines laid on the beach, and among the earlier casualties by mine was Lt. R. V. Kettle, RINVR, the principal Beachmaster. The LCTs forming the second wave came in to land at H+15, and an attempt was made to put them ashore on Charlie Beach. The first tank ashore became entirely bogged. Commander R.D. Hughes, RN then landed Brigadier Hardy, and himself led LCTs 2420, 2361 and 2444 to Dog Beach, but landings proved impossible. The LCTs returned to the Narbada, and after consultation it was decided to try Baker Beach. While this was going on, the third and fourth waves were successfully landed at Charlie Beach between 0900 and 0945. The ferry service then began to land No. 1 Commando from LCI(L).
Landing the Tanks
Further attempts were being made to land the tanks. A tank corps officer was contacted, and arranged the disembarkation of 40 sappers and necessary gear from one of the LCTs for the construction of a beach roadway on Baker Beach. During this operation six motor launches engaged Japanese forces who were firing from the east and west banks, and HMIS Narbada was taken into the Myebon river in support as far as the pier. It was an anxious passage, as the depth for a long way was 12 feet 10 inches, and the Narbada’s draft was 12 feet 6 inches.
At Baker Beach, a beach roadway was constructed in a remarkably short time and between 1320 and 1352 one tank and one bulldozer were landed from LCT 2420. LCT 2361 was then brought in. She unloaded her first tank but this toppled over as it emerged. At this crisis the Japanese opened fire on Baker Beach with a battery of 75-mm guns. The first round fell “over, but they quickly established the range, and the commanding officer, HMIS Narbada signalled the LCT to withdraw. As she left the beach one 75-mm round fell 20 feet over and the next 20 feet short, but she got clear with her remaining valuable cargo of tanks. In the meantime the Sappers and Tank Corps had righted the tank which had toppled over, and got it up under cover. The two tanks landed at Baker Beach were soon in action and proved most useful.
All loaded landing craft were now directed to Easy Beach. L C.T. 2444 was instructed to swim out his DUKWs (amphibious landing craft) and these were sent to Easy Beach.
While the attempt to land the tanks on Baker Beach was in progress, the Narbada had been engaging the first Japanese machine-guns which were sited in the area of Chaungyyi and were firing across the river, and later the 75-mm battery which had fired on the LCT. As soon as the Japanese realised that the attempt to land the tanks at Baker Beach had been abandoned they shifted the target to the Narbada. The fire was not very accurate, the first four rounds being about 300 yards over. Unfortunately one of these hit ML 831 and put her out of action.
When all craft had withdrawn from the river, there was nothing to be gained by remaining, so the Narbada was taken out of range and settled down to an area short of all the Japanese guns. The tanks were during this time successfully landed on Easy Beach, and at about 1600 landing of stores was commenced. This was completed by night fall. The following morning, the 74th Indian Infantry Brigade arrived under the order of the Naval Assault Force
Commander Arakan (Commander Nichol, RN) and Brigadier Hurst, and they landed at Easy Beach at 0730.
In all, on D day and D+1, naval forces landed 6,635 personnel, 41 vehicles, 71 animals and 325 tons of stores, and in the 27 days following, the build-up came to a further 17,050 personnel, 452 vehicles, 153 animals, and 4,200 tons of stores. HMI ships Jumna and Narbada were kept extremely busy bombarding bunkers and other positions throughout the 12th and 13th. At 1015 on the 13th, 8 Japanese bombers (Oscars) were sighted by the Narbada and Jumna and soon they attacked the ships. Most of the bombs fell quite close, the former ship having two within 50 feet. The Jumna shot down one bomber and the Narbada bagged two. Later the same day the Jumna sailed for Akyab towing ML 831.
Bombardment and Reconnaissance
After the departure of the Jumna, the Narbada remained in the Myebon area and between 14 and 20 January carried out 14 bombardments of Japanese guns and defended positions firing in all 1,151 rounds. On 17 January, reconnaissances were carried out of the Thegyan and Ganang rivers, and on the 18th the Monthinattaung and Yosanwin rivers, and Daingbon Chaung and other Chaungs were surveyed and buoyed to ascertain route for landing craft and MLs for an assault on the Kangaw area, and also to see how far sloops could support such an assault. It was found that sufficient water for sloops existed as far as Pasung Chaung.