Military Wiki
British Pacific Fleet
British aircraft carriers at anchor c1945.jpg
Active 1944–1945
Country United Kingdom
Branch Royal Navy; also Royal Australian Navy; Royal Canadian Navy; Royal New Zealand Navy
Engagements Battle of Okinawa
Bruce Fraser

The British Pacific Fleet (BPF) was a Royal Navy formation which saw action against Japan during World War II. The fleet was composed heavily of British Commonwealth naval vessels. The BPF formally came into being on 22 November 1944. Its main base was at Sydney, Australia, with a forward base at Manus Island.


The British Pacific Fleet was one of the largest fleets ever assembled by the Royal Navy. By VJ Day it had four battleships and six fleet aircraft carriers, together with fifteen smaller aircraft carriers, eleven cruisers, and numerous smaller warships, submarines, and support vessels. Following their retreat to the western side of the Indian Ocean in 1942, British naval forces did not return to the South West Pacific theatre until 17 May 1944, when an Anglo-American carrier task force implemented Operation Transom, a joint raid on Surabaya, Java.

The US was liberating British territories in the Pacific and extending its influence. It was therefore seen as a political and military imperative to restore a British presence in the region and to deploy British forces against Japan. The British government were determined that British territories, such as Hong Kong, should be recaptured by British forces.

The British establishment was not unanimous on the commitment of the BPF. Churchill, in particular, argued against it, not wishing to be a visibly junior partner in what had been exclusively the United States' battle. (The Australian and New Zealand forces there had been absorbed into US forces.) He also considered that a British presence would be unwelcome and should be concentrated on Burma and Malaya. Naval planners, supported by the Chiefs of Staff, believed that such a commitment would strengthen British influence and the British Chiefs of Staff considered mass resignation, so strongly held were their opinions.[1] Some US planners had also considered, in 1944, that a strong British presence against Japan was essential to an early end to the war and American home opinion would also be badly affected if Britain did not put itself in the line.

The Admiralty had proposed a British role in the Pacific in early 1944 but the initial USN response had been discouraging. Admiral Ernest King, Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations, an alleged Anglophobe,[2] was reluctant to concede any such role and raised a number of objections, including the requirement that the BPF should be self-sufficient. These were eventually overcome or discounted and at a meeting, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt "intervened to say that the British Fleet was no sooner offered than accepted. In this, though the fact was not mentioned, he overruled Admiral King's opinion".[3]

The Australian Government had sought US military assistance in 1942, when it was faced with the possibility of Japanese invasion. While Australia had made a significant contribution to the Pacific War, it had never been an equal partner with its US counterparts in strategy. It was argued that a British presence would act as a counterbalance to the powerful and increasing US presence in the Pacific.[4]

Constituent forces

The fleet was founded when Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser struck his flag at Trincomalee as Commander-in-Chief of the British Eastern Fleet and hoisted it in the gunboat HMS Tarantula as Commander-in-Chief British Pacific Fleet. He later transferred his flag to a more suitable vessel, the battleship HMS Howe.

The Eastern Fleet was based in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and reorganised into the British East Indies Fleet, subsequently becoming the British Pacific Fleet (BPF). The BPF operated against targets in Sumatra, gaining experience until early 1945, when it departed Trincomalee for Sydney. (These operations are described in the article on the British Eastern Fleet.)

The British provided the majority of the fleet's vessels and all the capital ships but elements and personnel included contributions from the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), as well as the commonwealth nations, including the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). With its larger vessels integrated with United States Navy formations since 1942, the RAN's contribution was limited. A high proportion of naval aviators were New Zealanders. The USN also contributed to the BPF, as did personnel from the South African Navy (SAN). Port facilities in Australia and New Zealand also made vital contributions in support of the British Pacific Fleet.

During World War II, the fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser. In practice, command of the fleet in action devolved to Vice-Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings, with Vice-Admiral Sir Philip Vian in charge of air operations by the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA). The fighting end of the fleet was referred to as Task Force 37 or 57 and the Fleet Train was Task Force 113. The 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron was the lead carrier formation.

Fleet logistics

Melbourne, 13 December 1944. First conference of the staff of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser's new British Pacific Fleet, held in Melbourne. Left to right: Lieutenant Commander G. P. Vollmer (Secretary to Chief of Staff); Lieutenant Commander R. N. Heard; Vice-Admiral C. S. Daniel (seated) Vice Admiral (Administration); Commodore W. G. Andrews; Captain E. H. Shattock (concealed); Captain R. C. Duckworth; Lieutenant S. G. Warrender.

The requirement that the BPF be self-sufficient meant the establishment of a fleet train that could support a naval force at sea for weeks or months. The Royal Navy had been used to operating close to its bases in Britain, the Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean and infrastructure and expertise were lacking. In the north Atlantic and Mediterranean, the high risk of submarine and air attack would have made routine refuelling at sea highly dangerous. Fortunately for the BPF "the American logistics authorities... interpreted self-sufficiency in a very liberal sense".[5]

The Admiralty sent Vice Admiral Charles Daniel to the United States for consultation about the supply and administration of the fleet. He then proceeded to Australia where he became Vice Admiral, Administration, British Pacific Fleet, a role that "if unspectacular compared with command of a fighting squadron, was certainly one of the most arduous to be allocated to a British Flag officer during the entire war."[5] The US Pacific Fleet had assembled an enormous fleet of oilers and supply ships of every type. Even before the war, it had been active in the development of underway replenishment techniques. The Admiralty realised that it needed a great deal of new equipment and training, in a short time and with whatever it had to hand. Lacking specialist ships, it had to improvise a fleet train from whatever RN, RFA or merchant ships were available. On 8 February 1944 the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, informed the Defence Committee that 91 ships would be required to support the BPF. This was based on an assumption that the BPF would be active off the Philippines or would have a base there. By March, the war zone had moved north and the Americans were unwilling to allow the British to establish facilities in the Philippines. The estimate had grown to 158 ships, as it was recognised that operations eventually would be fought close to Japan. This had to be balanced against the shipping needed to import food for the civilian population of the UK. In January 1945, the War cabinet was forced to postpone the deployment of the fleet by two months due to the shortage of shipping.[6]

The BPF found that its tankers were too few, too slow and in some cases unsuitable for the task of replenishment at sea. Its oiling gear, hoses and fittings were too often poorly designed. British ships refuelled at sea mostly by the over-the-stern method, a safer but less efficient technique compared with the American method of refuelling alongside. Lack of proper equipment and insufficient practice meant burst hoses or excessive time at risk to submarine attack, while holding a constant course during fuelling.[7] As the Royal Australian Navy had discovered, British-built ships had only about a third of the refrigeration space of a comparable American ship. British ships therefore required replenishment more frequently than American ships.[8] In some cases even American-built equipment was not interchangeable, for FAA aircraft had been "Anglicized" by the installation of British radios and oxygen masks, while British Corsairs had their wing-folding arrangements modified to fit into the more cramped hangars of British carriers. Replacement aircraft therefore had to be brought from the UK.[9]

The British Chiefs of Staff decided early on to base the BPF in Australia rather than India, where there was famine and unrest over British colonial rule. While it was apparent that Australia, with its population of only about seven million could not support the projected 675,000 men and women of the BPF, the actual extent of the Australian contribution was undetermined. The Australian government agreed to contribute to the support of the BPF but the Australian economy was fully committed to the war effort and manpower and stores for the BPF could only come from taking them from American and Australian forces fighting the Japanese.[10] Unfortunately, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser arrived in Sydney on 10 December 1944 under the mistaken impression that Australia had asked for the BPF and promised to provide for its needs. Two days later, the Acting Prime Minister of Australia Frank Forde announced the allocation of £21,156,500 for the maintenance of the BPF. In January 1945, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur agreed to release American stockpiles in Australia to support the BPF. The Australian government soon became concerned at the voracious demands of the BPF works programme, which was criticised by Australian military leaders. In April 1945, Fraser publicly criticised the Australian government's handling of waterside industrial disputes that were holding up British ships. The government was shocked and angered but agreed to allocate £6,562,500 for BPF naval works. Fraser was not satisfied. On 8 August 1945 Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Clement Attlee felt obliged to express his regret for the misunderstandings to the Australian government.[11]

The distance from Sydney was too far to allow efficient fleet support so with much American support, a forward base was established at Manus atoll, in the Admiralty Islands, which was described as "Scapa Flow with bloody palm trees."[12]

As well as its base at Sydney, the Fleet Air Arm established Mobile Naval Air Bases (MONABs) in Australia to provide technical and logistic support for the aircraft. The first of these became active in Sydney in January 1945.[13]

Active service

Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Avengers, Seafires and Fireflies on the deck of HMS Implacable warm up their engines before taking off. Other British warships can be seen in the background.

Major actions in which the fleet was involved included Operation Meridian, air strikes in January 1945 against oil production at Palembang, Sumatra. These raids, conducted in bad weather, succeeded in reducing the oil supply of the Japanese Navy. A total of 48 FAA aircraft were lost due to enemy action and crash landings; they claimed 30 Japanese planes destroyed in dogfights and 38 on the ground.

The United States Navy (USN), which had control of Allied operations in the Pacific Ocean Areas, gave the BPF combat units the designation of Task Force 57 (TF-57) when it joined Admiral Raymond Spruance's United States Fifth Fleet on 15 March 1945.[14] On 27 May 1945, it became Task Force 37 (TF-37) when it became part of Admiral William Halsey's United States Third Fleet.[15]

In March 1945, while supporting the invasion of Okinawa, the BPF had sole responsibility for operations in the Sakishima Islands. Its role was to suppress Japanese air activity, using gunfire and air attack, at potential Kamikaze staging airfields that would otherwise be a threat to US Navy vessels operating at Okinawa. The carriers were subject to heavy and repeated kamikaze attacks, but because of their armoured flight decks, the British aircraft carriers proved highly resistant, and returned to action relatively quickly. The USN liaison officer on the Indefatigable commented: "When a kamikaze hits a US carrier it means 6 months of repair at Pearl [Harbor]. When a kamikaze hits a Limey carrier it's just a case of 'Sweepers, man your brooms.'[16]

HMS Formidable on fire after a Kamikaze hit.

Fleet Air Arm Supermarine Seafires saw service in the Pacific campaigns. Due to their good high altitude performance and lack of ordnance-carrying capabilities (compared to the Hellcats and Corsairs of the Fleet) the Seafires were allocated the vital defensive duties of Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the fleet. Seafires were thus heavily involved in countering the Kamikaze attacks during the Iwo Jima landings and beyond. The Seafires' best day was 15 August 1945, shooting down eight attacking aircraft for a single loss.

In April 1945, the British 4th Submarine Flotilla was transferred to the major Allied submarine base at Fremantle, Western Australia, as part of BPF. Its most notable success in this period was the sinking of the heavy cruiser Ashigara, on 8 June 1945 in Banka Strait, off Sumatra, by HMS Trenchant and HMS Stygian. On 31 July 1945, in Operation Struggle, the British midget submarine XE3, crewed by Lieutenant Ian Fraser, Acting Leading Seaman James Magennis, Sub-Lieutenant William James Lanyon Smith, RNZNVR, and Engine Room Artificer Third Class, Charles Alfred Reed, attacked Japanese shipping at Singapore. They sank the heavy cruiser Takao, which settled to the bottom at its berth. Fraser and Magennis were both awarded the Victoria Cross, Smith received the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Reed the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM).

Battleships and aircraft from the fleet also attacked the Japanese home islands. The battleship King George V bombarded naval installations at Hamamatsu, near Tokyo; the last time a British battleship fired in action. Meanwhile, carrier strikes were carried out against land and harbour targets including, notably, the disabling of a Japanese escort carrier by British naval aircraft. Although, during the assaults on Japan, the British commanders had accepted that the BPF should become a component element of the US 3rd Fleet, the US fleet commander, William Halsey, excluded British forces from a raid on Kure naval base on political grounds.[17] Halsey later wrote, in his memoirs: "it was imperative that we forestall a possible postwar claim by Britain that she had delivered even a part of the final blow that demolished the Japanese fleet.... an exclusively American attack was therefore in American interests."

The BPF would have played a major part in a proposed invasion of the Japanese home islands, known as Operation Downfall, which was cancelled after Japan surrendered. The last naval air action in World War II was on VJ-Day when British carrier aircraft shot down Japanese Zero fighters.

Allied co-operation

The conflicting British and American political objectives have been mentioned: Britain needed to "show the flag" in an effective way while the US wished to demonstrate, beyond question, its own pre-eminence in the Pacific. In practice, there were cordial relations between the fighting fleets and their sea commanders. Although Admiral King had stipulated that the BPF should be wholly self-sufficient, in practice, material assistance was freely given: American officers told Rear Admiral Douglas Fisher, commander of the British Fleet Train, that he could have anything and everything “that could be given without Admiral King's knowledge.[18]

HMS Formidable passing through the Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net in 1945. The blackened funnel was the result of a kamikaze attack, in which a Japanese aircraft crashed on the flight deck.

Order of battle

The fleet included six fleet carriers, four light carriers, nine escort carriers and two aircraft maintenance carriers, with a total of more than 500 aircraft. In addition, the fleet included four battleships, 11 cruisers, dozens of smaller warships, 31 submarines, and many support vessels. This amounted to all of Britain's fast carriers and fast battleships in existence and the majority of its remaining combat power.

Aircraft carriers
Escort Carriers
AA Escort
Landing ships
  • HMS Glenearn – landing Ship, infantry (Large)
  • HMS Lothian – landing ship, headquarters (Large)
Fleet train
  • HMS Adamant submarine depot ship
  • HMS Aorangi accommodation ship
  • HMS Artifex repair ship
  • HMS Assistance repair ship
  • RFA Bacchus Distilling ship
  • HMS Bonaventure Submarine depot ship
  • HMS Berry Head Repair ship
  • HMS Deer Sound Repair ship
  • HMS Diligence Repair ship
  • HMS Dullisk Cove Repair ship
  • RNH Empire Clyde Hospital ship
  • HMS Empire Crest Water carrier
  • HMS Fernmore Boom carrier
  • HMS Flamborough Head Repair ship
  • HMS Fort Colville Aircraft store ship
  • HMS Fort Langley Aircraft store ship
  • RNH Gerusalemme Hospital ship
  • HMS Guardian Netlayer
  • HMNZS Kelantan Repair ship
  • HMS King Salvor Salvage ship
  • HMS Lancashire Accommodation ship
  • HMS Leonian Boom carrier
  • HMS Maidstone Submarine depot ship
  • NZHS Maunganui Hospital ship
  • HMS Montclare Destroyer Depot Ship
  • RNH Oxfordshire Hospital ship
  • HMS Resource Repair ship
  • HMS Salvestor Salvage ship
  • HMS Salvictor Salvage ship
  • HMS Shillay Danlayer
  • HMS Springdale Repair ship
  • HMS Stagpool Distilling ship
  • RNH Tjitalengka Hospital ship
  • HMS Trodday Danlayer
  • HMS Tyne Destroyer Depot Ship
  • HMS Vacport Water carrier
  • RNH Vasna Hospital ship
Replenishment Oilers
  • Aase Maersk
  • Carelia
  • Darst Creek
  • Golden Meadow
  • Iere
  • Loma Nova
  • San Adolpho
  • San Amado
  • San Ambrosia
  • Seven Sisters
Store ships
  • Bosporus
  • City of Dieppe
  • Corinda
  • Darvel
  • Edna
  • Fort Alabama Victualling/provisions stores ship[19]
  • Fort Constantine Victualling stores ship[19]
  • Fort Dunvegan Victualling stores ship[19]
  • Fort Edmonton Victualling stores ship[19]
  • Fort Providence Naval stores ship[19]
  • Fort Wrangell Naval stores ship[19]
  • Gudrun Maersk
  • Hermelin
  • Heron
  • Hickory Burn
  • Hickory Dale
  • Hickory Glen
  • Hickory Steam
  • Jaarstrom
  • Kheti
  • Kistna
  • Kola
  • Marudu
  • Pacheco
  • Prince de Liege
  • Princess Maria Pia
  • Prome
  • Robert Maersk
  • San Andres
  • Sclesvig
  • Thyra S

Source: Smith, Task Force 57, pp. 178–184

Fleet Air Arm Squadrons

(See List of Fleet Air Arm carrier air groups)

FAA squadrons
Sqdn no Aircraft type Ship Dates Notes
801 Seafire L.III Implacable May 1945 onwards part of 8th Carrier Air Group
812 Barracuda II Vengeance departed Mediterranean July 1945 en route to join BPF on VJ-Day
814 Barracuda II Venerable June 1945 onwards 15th Carrier Air Group, saw no action
820 Avenger I Indefatigable embarked November 1944 with 849 squadron, and took part in the with No 2 Strike Wing for attacks on oil refineries at Palembang, Sumatra and Sakashima Gunto islands;
from June 1945 with 7th Carrier Air Group for strikes around Tokyo
827 Barracuda II Colossus embarked for BPF January 1945 operated in the Indian Ocean from June 1945 until VJ-Day (BPF service unclear)
828 Barracuda I, II & III
Avenger II
Implacable from June 1945 part of 8th Carrier Air Group, involved in attacks on Truk and Japan
837 Barracuda II Glory embarked April 1945 part of 16th Carrier Air Group but saw no action before VJ-Day; covered Japanese surrender at Rabaul
848 Avenger I Formidable April 1945 onwards participated in strikes against Sakishima Gunto Island airfields and shore targets and on Formosa; in early June 1945 joined the 2nd Carrier Air Group for strikes on Japan in July
849 Avenger I & II Victorious December 1944 onwards part of No 2 Naval Strike Wing for raids on Pangkalan Brandon and Palembang oil refineries, Sumatra in January 1945; strikes on the Sakashima Gunto islands and Formosa, strikes in July 1945 Japan, near Tokyo, where an 849 aircraft scored the first bomb hit on the carrier Kaiyo
854 Avenger I, II & III Illustrious December 1944 onwards participated in strikes on Belawan Deli and Palembang; then took part in attacks on the Sakishima Gunto Islands; in July 1945 joined 3rd Carrier Air Group and saw no further action
857 Avenger I & II Indomitable November 1944 onwards joined in attacks on Belawan Deli, Pangkalan Brandan and Palembang in December 1944 and January 1945; later 2 months continuous attacks on Sakishima Gunto islands and Formosa; no further action before VJ-Day, but subsequently combatted Japanese suicide boats on 31 August and 1 September 1945 near Hong Kong
880 Seafire L.III Implacable embarked March 1945 escorted attacks on Truk island in June 1945; at end June merged into the new 8th Carrier Air Group; joined attacks in Japan
885 Hellcat I & II Ruler embarked December 1944 provided fighter cover for the Fleet; aircraft re-equipped June 1945, but saw no more action before VJ-Day
887 Seafire F.III & L.III Indefatigable embarked November 1944 took part in attack on oil refineries at Palembang, Sumatra in January 1945; strikes on the Sakashima Gunto islands; strikes around Tokyo just before VJ-Day
888 Hellcat Indefatigable until January 1945 operations over Sumatra, then remained in Ceylon when BPF departed
894 Seafire L.III Indefatigable embarked November 1944 took part in operations against Palembang oil refineries in Sumatra, January 1945; in March and April 1945 attacked targets in the Sakishima Gunto islands, and then attacked the Japanese mainland just prior to VJ-Day.
899 Seafire L.III Seafire pool embarked HMS Chaser February 1945
1770 Firefly Indefatigable
1771 Firefly Implacable
1772 Firefly Indefatigable
1790 Firefly NF Vindex from August 1945 not in operational area before VJ-Day
1830 Corsair Illustrious
1831 Corsair Glory
1833 Corsair Illustrious
1834 Corsair Victorious
1836 Corsair Victorious
1839 Hellcat Indomitable
1840 Hellcat Speaker
1841 Corsair Formidable
1842 Corsair Formidable
1844 Hellcat Indomitable
1846 Corsair Colossus
1850 Corsair Vengeance
1851 Corsair Venerable

See also


  1. Jackson, The British Empire and the Second World War, pp. 498–500
  2. Arthur Bryant, Triumph in the West, pp.?
  3. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 134–135
  4. Jackson, The British Empire and the Second World War, p.500
  5. 5.0 5.1 Roskill, The War at Sea, Volume III, Part 2, p. 331
  6. Roskill, The War at Sea, Volume III, Part 2, pp. 427–429
  7. Ernest King and the British Pacific Fleet, pp. 121–122
  8. Gill, Royal Australian Navy 1942–1945, p. 103
  9. Ernest King and the British Pacific Fleet, p. 120
  10. Ehrman, Grand Strategy, Volume V: August 1943 – September 1944, pp. 469–475
  11. Horner, High Command, pp. 377–381
  12. England's Shadow Fleet: White Ensign in the Pacific
  13. Roskill, The War at Sea, Volume III, Part 2, p. 429
  14. Roskill, The War at Sea, Volume III, Part 2, p. 334
  15. Morison, Victory in the Pacific, p. 272
  16. Commander Dickie Reynolds
  17. Sarantakes, Nicholase (1st quarter 2006). "The Short but Brilliant Life of the British Pacific Fleet" (pdf). JFQ / issue 40, p88. ndupress. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  18. Sarantakes, Nicholase (1st quarter 2006). "The Short but Brilliant Life of the British Pacific Fleet" (pdf). JFQ / issue 40, pp.86 & 87. ndupress. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 19.4 19.5 Angela Deroy-Jones. "Fort Ships of WW2 – Royal Navy Ships". Retrieved 2013-03-01. 
  20. Smith, Peter C. Task Force 57: British Pacific Fleet, 1944–45. pp. 184–185. 
  21. "NAVAL AIR SQUADRON INDEX (700–1800)". Fleet Air Arm Archive. Retrieved 16 February 2011. 


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