The British Pacific Fleet was the most powerful fleet the Royal Navy has ever operated in combat, and for a period in 1945 operated alongside the vast American fleets in the Pacific, taking part in the invasion of Okinawa and the operations off the coast of Japan towards the end of the war. Despite its achievements, and its significance for the post-war development of the navy, this fleet is now largely forgotten and rarely merits more than a footnote in histories of the Second World War.
The BPF was formed as a result of a British desire to take part in the naval war in the Pacific, in order to play a visible part in the final defeat of Japan. The surrender of Italy and the Italian fleet meant that the British no longer needed such a powerful fleet in the Mediterranean, while the neutralisation of the last German heavy ships in northern waters eventually freed up most of the Home Fleet as well. The new Pacific Fleet had to overcome some significant barriers. The Americans were now operating with a massive fleet train that allowed their warships to stay at sea for months on end. In contrast the Royal Navy's ships had been designed to operate comparatively close to their bases, so the British didn't have any real fleet train and RN ships often had less endurance than their American counterparts. An important part of this book looks at the impressive development of a British fleet train, which after a shaky start allowed the Royal Navy to take part in the invasion of Okinawa and to operate alongside the Americans in the final operations off the coast of Japan.
Hobbs helps demolish some widely held views. The attitude of Admiral King, professional head of the US Navy, is one such area. King is widely seen as having resisted the Royal Navy's efforts to fight in the Pacific because of his Anglophobia. As Hobbs makes clear this wasn't the complete story. King had actually requested British help during 1943, when the US was short of aircraft carriers, but by 1944 he was worried that a British fleet would impose a heavy burden on the American supply system. This wasn't the case, but only by a narrow margin. A second case was the use of the British fleet during the invasion of Okinawa. While the American fleets fought off Okinawa, the BPF attacked Japanese bases on the Sakishima Gunto islands and Formosa. This has been portrayed as the Americans pushing the British away from the main action, but it was actually a sold tactical choice. The Americans expected the carriers close to Formosa to be subjected to constant attack, and in particular kamikaze attack. The British carriers, with their armoured decks, were believed to be more resistance to kamikaze damage, and thus better suited for operations closer to their land bases. This opinion proved to be true, and several British carriers managed to continue operations despite being hit on their flight decks.
The author has provided a very detailed history of the BPF, with good material both on the military operations of the fleet and the effort that went into creating and maintaining a fleet operating at a vast distance from its bases and that had far less time to develop its fleet train than the American fleet it was attempting to emulate. An impressive book looking at an impressive achievement.
1 - Background, Theory and Experience
2 - Forward Planning
3 - Evolution and Expansion
4 - Strikes against the Sumatran Oil Refineries
5 - Australia and Logistic Support
6 - Operation 'Iceberg I'
7 - Replenishment in Leyte Gulf
8 - Operation 'Iceberg II'
9 - Operation 'Inmate'
10 - Repairs in Australia and Improved Logistic Support
11 - Submarine and Mine Warfare
12 - Strikes against the Japanese Mainland
13 - Victory
14 - Repatriation, Trooping and War-Brides
15 - A Peacetime Fleet
16 - Retrospection
Author: David Hobbs