British and Allied Submarine
Operations in World War II
Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Hezlet KBE CB DSO* DSC

 

 

     
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CHAPTER XXX

The Malacca Strait: October 1944 - March 1945

References
Patrolgram 29 War patrols Malacca Strait 1944-45
Map 56 Malacca Strait Oct 44 -Mar 45
Appendix XV Organisation of Allied Submarines September 1944

WITH THE DEPARTURE OF THE EIGHTH SUBMARINE FLOTILLA for the South West Pacific in August and September 1944, it is appropriate to review the strategic situation in South East Asia that it left behind and into which the operations of the Second and Fourth Submarine Flotillas now had to be fitted. The Fourteenth Army in Burma had been locked in combat with the Japanese around Kohima and Imphal throughout the summer of 1944. The Japanese invasion of India had been held in April and then halted, and after a period of attrition in May and June, it had been thrown back in July. Coupled with successes by the Chindits and General Stilwell's Sino-American Forces in the north, the recapture of the whole of Burma, leading to the re-opening of the Burma Road, seemed a distinct possibility. The recapture of the port of Rangoon was, of course, an essential feature of such a plan and the requisite amphibious forces were expected to become available from Europe after the completion of the landings in the south of France1. The part of the submarines left in South East Asia was clear. It was to continue to try to cut off the supplies to the Japanese Army in Burma by sea2. The sea route to Burma by the Malacca Strait had very nearly been cut already and the sea supply lines from Japan to Indo China and Singapore, which continued to Burma by rail and road, had suffered serious losses from the American submarine campaign in the Pacific. Submarines on both sides of the Malay Peninsula can undoubtedly claim some credit for the recent successes on land in Burma. During the summer of 1944, the submarine campaign in the Malacca Strait was joined by long-range aircraft from both the RAF and USAF, laying mines. These aircraft operated from Ceylon and the Chittagong area in India and laid mines in the Indian Ocean ports of Burma, Siam and northern Malaya. The German and Japanese U-boats from Penang, though there were few of them, still took a toll of Allied shipping in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese main fleet which had been based at Lingga for most of the year, left to take part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October and the bulk of it did not return.

After the Eighth Flotilla's departure, sixteen submarines were left in the Second and Fourth Flotillas at Trincomalee, although three of them3 were getting old and difficult to maintain. At this time too, a substantial build up of modern battleships and aircraft carriers was taking place in the Eastern Fleet. Most of these ships were destined for the Pacific but over the next few months they took part in a number of operations on the East Indies Station.

Nine submarines set off on patrol during October. In the first batch were Strongbow (Lieutenant JAR Troup DSC RN), Subtle (Lieutenant BJB Andrew DSC RN) and Stygian (Lieutenant GS Clarabut DSO RN). Subtle was on her first patrol and the other two on their second and they sailed between 2nd and 7th of the month. Strongbow, in the southern part of the Malacca Strait, attacked a convoy consisting of a merchant ship escorted by two subchasers on 11th October. She fired five torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards using CCR pistols. Two of them prematured and the others missed. Lieutenant Troup then set all his remaining torpedoes to 'impact only' but another chance to sink a merchant ship had to be given up due to shallow water. On 12th, Strongbow encountered two Japanese U-boats in quick succession. She fired four torpedoes at 2500 yards at the first from fine on the quarter and missed. Just over half an hour later she fired two more torpedoes at the second at 4500 yards with no more success. These were Ro113 and Ro115 on their way from Singapore to Penang to operate in the Bay of Bengal. Strongbow then reloaded her one remaining bow torpedo and two hours later fired it, hitting and sinking Manryo Maru of 1185 tons at a range of 1500 yards. Subtle on 11th, off Sabang, fired three torpedoes at a minesweeper at 4000 yards and understandably missed this small target. On 15th, off the Nicobars, she made an attack on a convoy of five coasters with three escorts, firing five torpedoes at 2000 yards and hitting and sinking Kaiyo Maru No 2 of 500 tons.

On 18th October, both Strongbow and Subtle were ordered to take up positions off Sabang and Nancowry for air-sea-rescue duties during a carrier borne air attack on the Nicobar Islands by the Eastern Fleet. This attack was designed to distract attention from the American landings on Leyte. Afterwards Strongbow fired her stern torpedo into the harbour but it was intercepted by torpedo nets. Stygian, on 14th October off Penang, sighted a U-boat but was unable to attack. On 24th, however, she sighted another U-boat4, firing two torpedoes with CCR pistols at 1200 yards but the U-boat saw the tracks and altered away. Both torpedoes exploded in her vicinity but were not close enough to damage her. Before returning to base, Stygian sank two coasters, two junks and a landing craft by gunfire and demolition charges.

The next batch of submarines to proceed on patrol were Shalimar (Lieutenant WG Meeke MBE DSC RN), Terrapin (Lieutenant RHH Brunner RN) and Tradewind (Lieutenant Commander SLC Maydon DSO* RN) and they sailed on 15th, 16th and 20th respectively. This was Shalimar's first patrol and she was sent to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Terrapin and Tradewind went straight to positions for air-sea-rescue for a minelaying sortie by the RAF from Chittagong on 27th. On 26th October, the Shalimar was put deep by one of the escorts when attacking a convoy and on 29th, she fired a full salvo of six torpedoes at a merchant ship escorted by four trawlers. The range was 2500 yards but she missed. Next day, 30th October, Tradewind laid twelve magnetic mines in the Mergui area5 and then sank three junks and damaged a coaster and two more junks, all by gunfire. At the same time, Terrapin sank another coaster and two junks by gunfire and demolition charge. Before leaving patrol on 2nd November, Shalimar bombarded Car Nicobar damaging the pier and five small landing craft. On 4th November, Terrapin attacked a merchant ship escorted by a minesweeper. She fired four torpedoes at the merchant ship at 1700 yards but two of the torpedoes hit Minesweeper No 5 at 750 yards and sank her. On 12th November, Tradewind attacked a coaster escorted by a motor launch and, thinking that it was a larger vessel, fired four torpedoes. The range was 1000 yards but the target was altering course at the time and all missed.

On 20th October, Trenchant (Lieutenant Commander AR Hezlet DSC RN), carrying two of the new Mark II Chariots on her saddle tanks, sailed for a special operation. It will be recalled that the chariot unit had arrived on the station in the depot ship Wolfe in August. Clearly the best target for them was the Japanese Fleet, which was lying in Lingga Roads, but this was in the South West Pacific Area under American command and their permission and co-operation would be required to plan and mount such an operation. In former chariot operations in Europe, most of the crews ended up as prisoners of war, but with Japan as the enemy, this meant that they would almost certainly be executed. The use of chariots therefore came to be seen as tantamount to a suicide operation and there was reluctance in the naval commands, both British and American, to use them. The operation planned for the two chariots from Trenchant was intended not only to try them out but also to do so against light opposition with fairly simple targets in which the crews could almost certainly be recovered. Such targets existed in Phuket harbour where two large ex-Italian merchant ships were lying damaged in an open roadstead with salvage operations in progress. After a careful reconnaissance, the two chariots were launched by Trenchant on 27th October and they attacked with complete success. Sumatra of 4859 tons was sunk and Volpi of 5292 tons so severely damaged that she was out of the war. The crews were recovered without difficulty and the chariots scuttled6. The success of this operation augured well for the future and for an attack on the Japanese Fleet. A reconnaissance of Lingga had already been arranged and was to be made by Telemachus of the Eighth Flotilla. However in mid-October, as already noted, the Japanese Fleet left Lingga for the Battle of Leyte Gulf and did not return7. No plans for operations therefore came about and by the end of 1944 the chariot organisation had been disbanded. Before returning to base, Trenchant, on 9th November, attacked an escorted convoy, firing five torpedoes with CCR pistols set to run under at a range of 2700 yards but without result. Whether this was a miss or failure of torpedoes to explode is not known. She did, however, succeed in sinking a junk by gunfire.

The last batch to sail for patrol in October consisted of the veteran Tally Ho (Commander LWA Bennington DSO* DSC* RN), on her ninth and last patrol before returning to the United Kingdom to refit, and Spirit (Lieutenant AA Catlow RN) on her third patrol. They left on 29th and 30th October and both were sent first to positions for air-sea-rescue during air minelaying on the Malayan side of the Malacca Strait. Tally Ho was involved on 6th November in a search for survivors of a B29 bomber but unfortunately without success. Then on 9th November she transferred five agents and ten tons of stores to a junk ten miles west of Langkawi. On 12th, Spirit attacked a small escorted tanker at anchor. She fired two torpedoes at 1500 yards while the escort was approaching, hitting with both and setting the tanker on fire. She then surfaced and engaged the escort with her gun but it jammed and she had to dive again. Consequently she suffered slight damage in the enemy counter attack with depth charges. On 16th, Tally Ho, when submerged at periscope depth, sighted a U-boat on a south-easterly course at very long range. She fired five torpedoes but the enemy altered course away. She fired another torpedo at her from right astern but she had no success. Shortly afterwards, Tally Ho was bombed by an aircraft. Next she sank a large junk and then a 100-ton Tongkang and on 19th November, she started home. Off Langkawi she sank another seven junks bound for Penang in a period of twelve hours. On 20th off the Nicobars, she encountered a merchant ship with an escort and fired three torpedoes with CCR pistols at a range of 1200 yards. All three exploded, not under the target, but under the escort vessel, which was Special Minelayer No 4 and which, not surprisingly, sank.

By the end of October, the enemy had abandoned the convoy route to northern Sumatra and this success can be attributed almost entirely to the work of the submarines. The Japanese had also decided to move their submarine base from Penang to Batavia. This was partly due to the difficulty of getting supplies, spare gear and torpedoes there, but mainly because of submarine attacks on U-boats entering and leaving the port. The RAF's minelaying in the area, which began in October, was the last straw.

Eleven submarines left for patrol during November and their activities extended from the west coast of Siam in the north, to the Indian Ocean coast of Sumatra in the south as well as inside the Malacca Strait. During the month, Stratagem was lost and Spark went on to join the Eighth Flotilla at Fremantle so only nine boats returned to Trincomalee. The first batch were all of the T-class. Tudor (Lieutenant SA Porter DSC RN) sailed on 2nd to patrol off the west coast of Sumatra and on 16th, drove a coaster ashore by gunfire. She then fired a torpedo at a range of 2000 yards which, although set to run at a depth of four feet, exploded short probably hitting the bottom. Nevertheless Tudor set the coaster on fire with more gunfire. During the action, she was bombed by an aircraft and suffered minor damage. Thorough (Lieutenant Commander JG Hopkins RN) sailed on 4th and laid twelve magnetic ground mines on 19th near the Mati Bank off the north coast of Sumatra. She also sank three junks and drove two coasters ashore and destroyed them by gunfire. Thule (Lieutenant ACG Mars DSO DSC RN) left on 7th for a special operation in the Langkawi area but it was cancelled. She had to return early to seek medical assistance after a stoker died of heat stroke and another rating became seriously ill.

Both Statesman (Lieutenant RGP Bulkeley RN) and Stratagem (Lieutenant CR Pelly DSC RN) sailed on 10th, Statesman for the north coast of Sumatra where she stopped and boarded a junk on 16th. While the boarding party was still away, Statesman had to dive for an aircraft that bombed her, fortunately without damage, and she was able to recover the boarding party later. Stratagem was sent farther up the Strait than any submarine had been before. On 19th, she attacked a convoy of five ships escorted by three torpedo boats off Malacca. She fired three torpedoes at 2500 yards and secured one hit which damaged a ship. She was counter attacked with some twenty depth charges which were not close, and she was able to return to periscope depth and fire her stern torpedo at a range of 1000 yards which hit and sank the damaged Nichinan Maru of 1945 tons after which Stratagem was able to withdraw successfully. She went on up the Strait another thirty miles or so before returning to patrol off Malacca. Here, three days later, she encountered a destroyer and a seaplane on patrol. At midday on 22nd, her presence was detected and she was accurately depth charged by the destroyer causing lethal damage and sinking her. The total casualties included the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Pelly, four other officers and forty men. One officer and nine men escaped by DSEA and eight of them were taken prisoner8. This was only the second casualty so far in the British submarine campaign in the Far East.

Spark (Lieutenant DG Kent RN), sailing on 14th November on her first patrol, was sent to the Mergui area where she sank two schooners by gunfire and demolition charges. On 27th, she was positioned for air-sea-rescue duties and then went on to Fremantle to join the Eighth Flotilla. Strongbow (Lieutenant JAR Troup DSC RN) and Supreme (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) sailed on 15th for the west coast of Sumatra and the Andamans-Langkawi area respectively. Strongbow sank a tug and lighter by gunfire on 28th and next day carried out a special operation successfully. On 30th she sank three junks, obtaining 33 hits out of 36 rounds fired, even though, at the time, she was being engaged by shore batteries. Supreme was on her first patrol and had just arrived in Trincomalee. She was a new variation of the S-class with a four inch instead of a three-inch gun, for which she had to sacrifice her stern torpedo tube. She attempted a submerged torpedo attack on a merchant ship off Port Blair on 19th but lost trim and had to break it off. On 26th, she undertook air-sea-rescue duties and during the patrol sank six junks by gunfire. The large and elderly Clyde (Lieutenant RH Bull DSC RN) sailed on 18th November and carried out two special operations landing and recovering reconnaissance parties on the west coast of Siam.

The last two submarines to sail in November were Stygian (Lieutenant GS Clarabut DSO RN) and Shalimar (Lieutenant WG Meeke MBE DSC RN) and they sailed on 22nd and 29th. Stygian sank two coasters and a landing craft by gunfire in the Sabang area and on 10th, attacked a convoy of five coasters escorted by two subchasers. She fired two salvoes of three torpedoes each at 4000 and 3700 yards but it was flat calm and she either missed or the torpedoes were avoided. The attack was followed by an ineffective counter attack. Shalimar on 6th December fired three torpedoes with CCR pistols at a convoy of eight small ships at a range of 500 yards. She either missed or the pistols failed. A second shot with one torpedo with a contact pistol of the old type, fired at 700 yards, was no more successful. On 14th she attacked a coaster in a convoy of four and fired three more torpedoes with CCR pistols at a range of 1200 yards but two of them prematured and the third missed. Another single torpedo was then fired at 1500 yards at the same convoy and a hit was claimed but has not been substantiated. These disappointments were, however, offset by sinking six junks, a tug and two lighters by gunfire and damaging another.

Subtle (Lieutenant BJB Andrew DSC RN) was the first away in December, sailing on the first day of the month. She sank three small junks with demolition charges and then took up a position for air-sea-rescue duties on 18th- 20th December for an air strike by Indomitable and Illustrious on the oil refinery at Belawan Deli in northern Sumatra. Porpoise (Lieutenant Commander HB Turner DSC RN) sailed on 3rd and on 9th laid fifty moored contact mines off Penang. She then sank a junk with demolition charges and next day had an encounter with enemy patrols, in which she was subjected to a minor depth charge attack. She patrolled on her way home in the Nicobars but found no targets.

Tradewind (Lieutenant Commander SLC Maydon DSO* RN) sailed on 5th December and on 11th landed and recovered agents on the north coast of Sumatra. She then went on her way to Fremantle to join the Eighth Flotilla. Thule (Lieutenant ACG Mars DSO DSC RN) left Trincomalee on 11th and laid twelve magnetic ground mines north of Penang on 16th December. On 28th she sighted the Japanese U-boat Ro113 and fired a stern salvo of three torpedoes at 1000 yards but they had CCR pistols and the torpedo that should have hit, prematured, and the U-boat escaped. Ro113 was returning from operations in the Bay of Bengal9. Thule had to be satisfied with sinking thirteen junks and two lighters by gunfire, demolition charges and ramming and bringing back twenty prisoners for interrogation.

The next two boats to put to sea inaugurated new tactics for British submarines in the Far East. Trenchant (Lieutenant Commander AR Hezlet DSC RN) and Terrapin (Lieutenant RHH Brunner RN) formed a 'wolf-pack' for the first time and worked together in company. The aim of the 'wolf-pack', however, was not to make night surface torpedo attacks, using radar and voice radio like the Americans, so much as to keep together submerged by day and to surface for combined gun attacks on targets too strong for a single submarine. Combined torpedo attacks by day or night were, of course, also allowed for. Because of the absence of suitable radar and VHF radio, communications and relative position were maintained by asdic. Trenchant and Terrapin left Trincomalee on 11th and 12th December and crossed the Bay of Bengal independently. Trenchant went first to the Sumatran side of the Malacca Strait and on 21st, sank two landing craft supplying Pulo Pandang. Meanwhile Terrapin was landing agents and stores in the Sembilan Islands on the Malayan side. The two submarines made a rendezvous as ordered on 22nd and worked together until 4th January. On their first day in company, a coaster was sunk by gunfire and that night the Medical Officer10 was transferred from Trenchant to Terrapin to attend to two injured men. During the next two weeks a trawler and a coaster were sunk by combined gunfire and three coasters were driven ashore and burnt. Singly, Trenchant disposed of four junks by gunfire and ramming, and Terrapin fired five torpedoes at 2600 yards at an escorted auxiliary minelayer and sank her. She also sank two junks by demolition charge. The two largest victims totalled 1053 tons. On 4th January, before returning to Trincomalee, both submarines surfaced and bombarded a Japanese lookout post and huts for a small garrison on Pulo Pandang.

A batch of four more submarines left for patrol in the middle of December. Tudor (Lieutenant SA Porter DSC RN) sailed on 15th for the west coast of Burma and Tavoy and sank seven junks, carrying petrol and ammunition, by gunfire. Thorough (Lieutenant Commander JG Hopkins RN) put to sea the day after Tudor and laid twelve magnetic ground mines north of Penang on 23rd. She then sank three junks by gunfire and demolition charge on the west coast of Siam. Clyde (Lieutenant RH Bull DSC RN) sailed on 18th for the Andaman Islands where she landed twenty-eight men with some twelve tons of stores in a special operation. Shakespeare (Lieutenant D Swanston DSC* RN), the last of this batch and on her first patrol in the Far East, left on 20th, also for the Andaman Islands. She saw nothing until 31st December, when she sighted a convoy of two merchant ships with air and surface escort off the Nancowry Strait. She fired six torpedoes at a range of 1500 yards, hitting and sinking Unryu Maru of 2515 tons. The escorts counter attacked, but not very effectively and Shakespeare was undamaged. On 3rd January, she attacked a small, unescorted merchant ship, firing four torpedoes from a range of 3500 yards and missed. She then surfaced and opened fire with her gun, but almost at once sighted a patrol vessel approaching and prepared to dive. At this moment the return fire from the merchant ship scored a hit on Shakespeare penetrating the pressure hull just abaft the bridge and causing very serious damage. Her wireless office was destroyed and an auxiliary machinery space flooded and a great deal of water was taken in to the engine and control rooms. She was unable to dive and furthermore her steering gear was damaged, one main engine was out of action as well as both electric motors. Nevertheless she struggled away on the surface and fought off both the merchant ship and the patrol vessel. She was unable to call for assistance but made for Trincomalee several days away across the Bay of Bengal. During the rest of the day she repulsed no less than twenty-five air attacks with her guns, shooting one of them down but suffering fifteen casualties. She withdrew at her best speed all night and next day was expecting the attacks to be renewed but the Japanese, for some reason, did not appear again and she was able to make such repairs as were possible. Early on 6th January, by chance, she met Stygian (Lieutenant GS Clarabut DSO RN), outward bound for patrol. After establishing her identity11, she informed Stygian of her plight and Stygian called for assistance by wireless and escorted her on her way back. Destroyers then arrived from Trincomalee and took her in tow. The damage was so severe that Shakespeare had to return to the United Kingdom and was of no further operational use during the war.

Four more submarines left Trincomalee to patrol before the end of the year. Statesman (Lieutenant RGP Bulkeley RN) sailed on 23rd and went to the northeast coast of Sumatra to take up a position for air-sea-rescue for another carrier air strike by Indomitable, Victorious and Indefatigable on the oil refinery at Belawan Deli. Thorough, on her way back to base, was also sent to the same area for the same purpose. Statesman subsequently sank a junk and four motor lighters by gunfire. Seascout (Lieutenant JW Kelly RN) sailed on her first patrol in the Far East on 24th December and was sent first to the Nicobars. Here on 29th, she shelled beached coasters sinking two of them, and was bombed by an aircraft fortunately without damage. The veteran minelayer Rorqual (Lieutenant JPH Oakley DSC RN) had recently arrived at Trincomalee and on 28th, she sailed for the west coast of Siam and laid two minefields on 3rd January off Salang Island. The first field consisted of fifty moored contact mines and the second of twelve magnetic ground mines.

The last submarine to proceed on patrol in 1944 was Strongbow (Lieutenant JAR Troup DSC RN). She sailed on 30th December for the southern part of the Malacca Strait. Here she sank a junk by gunfire and on 10th January was depth charged by a destroyer who detected her, but fortunately she suffered no damage. Anti-submarine vessels again detected her three days later and this time was subjected her to a number of close and effective depth charge attacks, which caused sufficient damage to force her to abandon her patrol and return to base. Strongbow was found to be in such a state that she had to return to the United Kingdom for repairs.

During the three months so far covered by this chapter, there were substantial changes in strategy in the area. The continuation of the war in Europe beyond the end of 1944 meant that the amphibious forces for the attack on Rangoon had not been forthcoming. It was essential to take Rangoon if the Burma Road was to be opened. A new strategy was therefore planned to take it by land by an advance down the Irrawaddy by the Fourteenth Army from central Burma. An advance down the Arakan coast was part of this plan in order to establish airfields in support. The considerable naval reinforcements which had arrived in the East Indies, amounting to five fleet aircraft carriers and two modern battleships, were not required for these operations on the station and were about to go on to Australia to form the British Pacific Fleet. It had been planned for the Fourth Submarine Flotilla to go on to the Pacific at the end of the year too, but the C-in-C postponed this move for three months until a suitable forward base could be arranged and because he considered the flotilla was doing good work in the Malacca Strait at this time. The good work alluded to by the C-in-C was the virtual severing of sea communications to Burma by the Malacca Strait. From now on the Japanese did not attempt to use ships of any size in this area. Such sea transport as existed consisted of coasters, junks and other small ships, keeping as far as possible to shallow water.

Sinkings were therefore no longer an indication of the success of the campaign but it was still necessary to keep up patrol activity to prevent the sea communications starting up again. During the three months, our submarines sank six ships totalling 11,597 tons, a small tanker and three small warships as well as one hundred coasters, junks and other small craft. Torpedoes, mines, chariots, gunfire, demolition charges and ramming were all used to achieve these results. The most successful weapon was the chariot, which not only scored 100% hits but also sank and damaged the greatest tonnage. There were twenty-six torpedo attacks firing 86 torpedoes. Eight attacks were successful and five more failed because the torpedoes prematured or did not explode. Five attacks using sixteen torpedoes were against the difficult U-boat targets and all missed. One hundred moored contact mines were laid and also sixty magnetic ground mines. The results were disappointing, only one small ship of 593 tons being sunk. The magnetic mines, of course, would not fire under wooden ships such as junks and the mass-produced Japanese coasters. The sinking and damaging of over a hundred coasters, junks and landing craft by the gun coupled with demolition charges and ramming, was probably the most important type of attack because the enemy traffic consisted mainly of these small craft. Submarines also, in this period, carried out eight special operations for landing or recovering agents, including one on a large scale by Clyde. They were also positioned for eleven air-sea-rescue missions and bombarded shore targets four times. The opposition was by no means without teeth. Of the nine depth charge attacks made on our submarines, one caused the loss of Stratagem, another forced Strongbow to leave patrol and two more caused minor damage. Shakespeare was seriously damaged by return gunfire from a target, and submarines were bombed and missed by aircraft twenty-eight times12.

IN JANUARY, THE MAIN FOURTEENTH ARMY was still engaged in central Burma but by the middle of the month had excellent prospects of defeating the Japanese near Mandalay. On 2nd January, the advance down the Arakan coast began when a Commando brigade landed unopposed at Akyab. A landing at Myebon on 12th, to cut off the Japanese forces, however, failed to trap them. On 21st, the 26th Indian Division landed on Ramree Island and next day another landing at Kangaw, to cut off the enemy's retreat, also failed to do so. Finally on 26th, the Royal Marines of the Fleet landed and took Cheduba Island.

The submarine campaign in the Malacca Strait continued into 1945 much as before but early in the year suffered the loss of another submarine. Porpoise (Lieutenant Commander HB Turner DSC RN) left Trincomalee on 3rd January and laid two minefields west of Penang on 9th, sinking a coaster and Subchaser Che57. She reported laying her mines by wireless. She was never heard of again. The cause of her loss is unknown and there are no indications from post war British or Japanese sources to show what happened. All that can be said is that her mine-fields, which consisted of fifty moored-contact and twelve magnetic ground mines, were ordered to be laid within three miles of her earlier field laid on 9th December and she may have struck one of these13. Porpoise was, at the time of her loss, the oldest British submarine still used for operations. She had, however, a well-trained crew on their fourth patrol in the Far East and an experienced Commanding Officer. Although, of course, it was not known at the time, Porpoise was the last British submarine to be lost during the Second World War. She went down with all hands, including her Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Turner, six other officers and 67 men.

Stygian (Lieutenant GS Clarabut DSO RN) and Supreme (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) left Trincomalee on 4th and 5th January for patrol in the southern end of the Malacca Strait and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands respectively. It will be recalled that it was Stygian who met the damaged Shakespeare on 6th January and escorted her until she was taken in tow by a destroyer. Stygian sank a small tanker and five junks by gunfire and demolition charge, and then went on to Fremantle to join the Eighth Submarine Flotilla. Supreme drove three coasters ashore by gunfire but she could not finish them off because of a defect in her gun: a torpedo fired at them prematured14.

On 9th January, the newly arrived Thrasher (Lieutenant Commander MFR Ainslie DSO DSC RN) sailed on her first patrol in the Far East and was sent to the west coasts of Burma and Siam. From 21st-25th she was employed on air-sea-rescue duty for the RAF but found time to sink ten junks by gunfire and demolition charge. Shalimar (Lieutenant Commander WG Meeke OBE DSC RN) put to sea on 12th to patrol in the southern part of the Malacca Strait. She sank four junks by gunfire and drove ashore a coaster and four landing craft. On 21st, she sighted and attacked a Japanese U-boat, firing six torpedoes at a range of 1200 yards, but one of the torpedoes prematured and the others missed. Shalimar turned and fired her stern tube after the enemy but it was avoided. Gun action was not possible because she had no ammunition left. On 18th January, Clyde (Lieutenant RH Bull DSC RN) was off again to land agents and stores in the Andamans and west coast of Siam, and these tasks she successfully carried out on 22nd-23rd. On the same day, Rorqual (Lieutenant JPH Oakley DSC RN) sailed for the Andamans with a full cargo of fifty moored-contact and twelve magnetic ground mines, which she laid in Nancowry Strait and south of Niell Island on 23rd. She was then used for air-sea-rescue purposes until 28th. Subtle (Lieutenant BJB Andrew DSC RN) sailed the day after Rorqual for the Malacca Strait and sank four junks with demolition charges. On 7th February she made an unsuccessful attack on a convoy of coasters escorted by a trawler. She fired six torpedoes at a range of 2000 yards using CCR pistols set to non-contact but without result15. The counter attack was ineffective.

On 23rd January, Thule (Lieutenant Commander ACG Mars DSO DSC RN) sailed from Trincomalee for the South China Sea for a special operation to land men and stores on the east coast of Johore. This was a continuation of the operation begun in October 1944 by Telemachus, which she had not been able to complete because of engine trouble. The landing place was twenty miles north of Singapore on a beach cut off from the mainland by swamps. She passed through the Sunda Strait on 1st February and the operation was successfully carried out on 6th February. The group was re-supplied and valuable intelligence was brought back. On 11th, as she returned, she attacked a small merchant ship with three escorts. She fired six torpedoes at a range of 4000 yards but they all missed. She passed through the Sunda Strait again on 15th and reached Trincomalee on 24th February. This patrol had to be arranged in co-operation with the US Navy as it took place in the South West Pacific Area. It is of interest as it shows that the South China Sea could be reached as easily from Trincomalee as from Fremantle. Two more submarines left for patrol in January; Selene (Lieutenant Commander HRB Newton DSC RN) on 25th and Statesman (Lieutenant RGP Bulkeley DSC RN) on 31st. Selene, on her first patrol, was sent to the Andamans area and Statesman, on her fifth, to the Malacca Strait. Selene's patrol was uneventful except for sighting antisubmarine vessels on 7th February. She was employed on air-sea-rescue duties from 1st-5th. Statesman's patrol was full of incident. She sank two junks by gunfire on 6th February and on 17th, sighted a convoy of five coasters escorted by a trawler. She surfaced and sank the trawler by gunfire and disposed of three coasters by a combination of gunfire and demolition charges and then drove the other two ashore. This brilliant action, which destroyed a whole convoy single-handedly, was not her only success. On 20th she encountered a small tanker in company with two coasters. She fired four torpedoes at a range of 3000 yards, but they saw them coming and altered course away. Statesman then surfaced and opened fire with her gun, sinking the tanker and damaging both coasters and driving them ashore. During the action, a small tug towing two lighters, came in sight and they promptly beached themselves. She had, by now, expended all her ammunition. On return to base she received a signal of congratulation from the Admiralty.

In February, the Supreme Commander, South East Asia was given strategic directions to liberate the whole of Burma and then to re-conquer Malaya. By 12th there were 23,000 men ashore at Ramree, but yet another attempt to cut off the enemy retreat failed at Ruywa. On 23rd, however, the Fourteenth Army began its advance down the Irrawaddy towards Rangoon with the intention of capturing it before the monsoon was due to break in May.

Thorough (Lieutenant AG Chandler RNR) was the first submarine to go on patrol in February. She left on 6th for the west coast of Burma where she caused havoc with her gun amongst small craft. She sank no less than nineteen junks and a coaster, completing their destruction by demolition charges and ramming. She also sank a large landing craft which was heavily camouflaged with palm leaves and foliage and which was carrying petrol and a company of Japanese soldiers. Altogether she took 110 prisoners, bringing back a sample of six and putting the rest in local craft. Seascout (Lieutenant JW Kelly RN) sailed on 14th and Seadog (Lieutenant EA Hobson DSC RN), on her first patrol, on 16th. They were sent to the north coast of Sumatra and the Andamans respectively. Both were used at first for air-sea-rescue duties at the end of February and Seadog picked up four US airmen and transferred them to a Catalina flying boat, which landed alongside. Seascout sank seven junks by gunfire and demolition charge and on 7th March, fired four torpedoes into Ulee Lhoe harbour in north Sumatra, sinking a coaster and damaging the pier with two more coasters alongside it. The day before, Seadog had fired two torpedoes at a coaster at a range of 5000 yards and it is not surprising that she missed, although the target was stopped. She then surfaced and engaged with her gun but had to break off the action because of fire from shore batteries.

The 'wolf-pack' consisting of Trenchant (Commander AR Hezlet DSO DSC RN) and Terrapin (Lieutenant RHH Brunner RN) put to sea again in the middle of February. Terrapin sailed on 15th and Trenchant on 18th and proceeded independently to the Malacca Strait. Terrapin first carried out a special operation in the Sembilan Islands, contacting agents and landing stores on 22nd. Trenchant was also busy and sank a coaster, three lighters, a junk and a tug by gunfire before joining with Terrapin on 24th. Terrapin had already destroyed a coaster and three junks by gunfire and after joining Trenchant, both submarines drove three coasters ashore and set them on fire. Next day, Trenchant made a submerged attack on a convoy in very shallow water, firing four torpedoes in 6 fathoms at a range of 2000 yards. She ran aground at periscope depth as she fired. In spite of the presence of an air and surface escort, she managed to bump her way back into deeper water along the bottom having hit and sunk one coaster. Terrapin also fired three torpedoes at this same convoy within a few minutes, but her torpedoes missed. On 4th March, both submarines surfaced and attacked the Japanese Subchaser No5, which appeared steaming independently. Terrapin damaged her first and she fled at high speed into the arms of Trenchant, who finished her off. That night Trenchant transferred 60 rounds of ammunition to Terrapin, who had nearly run out16.

Two more S-class set out on patrol during February, Supreme (Lieutenant TE Barlow RN) on 19th and Scythian (Lieutenant CP Thode RNZNVR) on her first patrol on 24th. Supreme was sent to the east coast of Sumatra and Scythian to the Mergui area. Both submarines were used for air-sea-rescue early in March and Supreme sank four junks by gunfire and also destroyed a beached coaster and another beached junk. Scythian destroyed eight junks by gunfire and demolition charge. Finally during February, Clyde (Lieutenant RH Bull DSC RN) set off on 25th on another special operation on the west coast of Sumatra. This was to land a reconnaissance party, which she did between 3rd and 5th March. On 4th March, she found time to drive an armed trawler of 233 tons ashore with her gun in spite of the return fire of some field guns on the coast.

On 3rd March, the Fourteenth Army had captured Meiktila, and on 9th, Mandalay as well. On 13th, yet another landing at Letpan failed to encircle the elusive Japanese in the Arakan. Surface forces of the East Indies Fleet now began to operate south of Burma in areas heretofore reserved for submarines. Naval aircraft flying from aircraft carriers also made attacks on the west coast of Burma and Siam. On 26th March, the 26th Destroyer Flotilla intercepted and sank a whole convoy, albeit of very small ships, east of the Andamans17. By the end of the month, the Fourteenth Army was pursuing the Japanese down the Irrawaddy towards Rangoon.

Eleven submarines set off to patrol during March but as the move of the Fourth Flotilla to Fremantle was scheduled to take place in early April, four of these did not return to Trincomalee but went straight on to Western Australia. The first two to sail, on 3rd, were the newly arrived Torbay (Lieutenant Commander CP Norman DSO RN) on her first, and Thrasher (Lieutenant Commander MFR Ainslie DSO DSC RN) on her second patrol. Both were sent to the west coast of Siam and Malaya. Torbay landed beach reconnaissance parties between the 8th and 15th and on 16th, drove a coaster ashore and set it on fire with her gun. Thrasher also landed and contacted agents between 8th and 14th and again on 22nd and sank five junks by gunfire. On 4th, Subtle (Lieutenant BJB Andrew DSC RN) also put to sea for the Malacca Strait and did air-searescue duty on 10th-12th March. She sank four junks by gunfire and demolition charge.

Three submarines sailed on 13th: two of these were the brand new T-boats Trump (Commander EF Balston DSO RN) and Tiptoe (Lieutenant Commander PRH Harrison DSO DSC* RN), which were not only of the all-welded type with an increased diving depth, but had the American SJ radar fitted and great things were expected from them. The third submarine to sail on 13th was Selene (Lieutenant Commander HRB Newton DSC RN) and she was followed on 18th by Rorqual (Lieutenant JPH Oakley DSC RN). Selene went to the north and east coasts of Sumatra, where she sighted destroyers on 17th but they proved to be British. She sank four junks before returning to Trincomalee. Trump and Tiptoe went to the west coasts of Burma and Tiptoe also to the Andamans. Both carried out air-sea-rescue duties on 28th-30th March. Trump was attacked by an enemy aircraft but was undamaged and both left patrol on 31st for Fremantle. Rorqual was sent to the west coast of Sumatra and carried out two special operations, landing and contacting agents between 24th and 29th March and also on 3rd April. She also drove two coasters ashore on 27th March after firing four torpedoes at one of them and missing at a range of 1600 yards. She then also went on to Fremantle leaving patrol on 3rd April. Thule (Lieutenant Commander ACG Mars DSO DSC RN), who had already carried out a special operation on the far side of Malaya, sailed on 23rd for one on the near side. This was to capture a southbound junk on the west coasts of Siam or Malaya with its cargo and papers. She failed, however, to find a suitable vessel but sank five small junks by demolition charge. Clyde (Lieutenant RH Bull DSC RN) made another short trip on 25th to the Andamans to contact and recover agents, which she accomplished successfully. Thorough (Lieutenant AG Chandler RNR) sailed on 27th March for the Nicobars, Andamans and the north coast of Sumatra. She sank a motor gunboat and three armed landing craft by gunfire. She also damaged a coaster and a pier by firing five torpedoes into a harbour. She was engaged by shore batteries and was slightly damaged. On 11th April she left patrol for Fremantle. Statesman (Lieutenant RGP Bulkeley RN) left on 31st March for the southern part of the Malacca Straits and on 5th April, sank an unescorted convoy of seven armed landing craft, six by gunfire and one by demolition charge. Between the 6th and 15th, she sank a schooner, eight junks and three motor lighters, expending in all 493 rounds of ammunition18.

The submarines of the Second and Fourth Flotillas at Trincomalee which sailed to patrol in the Malacca Strait in January, February and March 1945, were only able to make eleven torpedo attacks and of these, only one was really aimed at a proper torpedo target. This was a U-boat and the attack missed partly because one of the torpedoes fired prematurely. The total damage done by torpedo was two coasters sunk and two harbour piers and three coasters damaged. This result was, however, more an illustration of how the Japanese had been driven from the sea in this area than of poor torpedo marksmanship. Most of the damage was done by gunfire, supplemented on occasion, by ramming and demolition charge. These methods sank Subchaser No 5, two armed trawlers, a motor gunboat and eleven landing craft of the Japanese Navy; and two small tankers, six coasters, a tug and six lighters and no less than 84 junks and a schooner. The same methods also damaged or drove ashore an armed trawler, fourteen coasters and four landing craft. The one hundred and twenty-four mines laid do not seem to have caused many casualties. In addition, submarines were used for air-searescue on ten occasions and carried out ten special operations. Only one submarine, Porpoise, was lost in this period. The Japanese had now clearly lost command of the sea in the Malacca Strait and on the west coasts of Malaya, Sumatra, Siam and Burma. Their island garrisons were virtually cut off and were short of every kind of supplies. The main Japanese army in Burma was half starved, diseased and exhausted and the submarines of the East Indies Fleet can claim a share of the credit for bringing this situation about.

Many of the decorations awarded for the area dealt with in this chapter were combined with exploits described in Chapter XXIX. The awards here listed were therefore won in both the East Indies and Pacific. There were two Distinguished Service Orders given, the first being to Luitenant ter zee Goossens of Zwaardvisch for his brilliant patrol in which he sank U168 and Itsukishima in the Java Sea, and the second to Lieutenant Swanston of Shakespeare, who fought off many Japanese attacks and brought his severely damaged submarine back to Trincomalee from the Malacca Strait. Bars to the Distinguished Service Cross went to Lieutenant Commander Young of Storm and Lieutenant Anderson of Sturdy and Distinguished Service Crosses to Lieutenant Commander Mackenzie of Tantalus, Lieutenant Angell of Sea Rover, Lieutenant Marriott of Stoic, Lieutenant May of Tantivy and Lieutenant Brunner of Terrapin. Later Lieutenant Chandler of Thorough and Lieutenant Langridge of Spirit also received Distinguished Service Crosses.

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