Operation Birdseed

This was a British naval raid on Japanese coastal shipping in the area of Ramree in the Arakan western coastal region of Japanese-occupied Burma (2/3 March 1944).

On 22 February 1944 the entire motor launch strength of the Indian navy force on the Arakan coast had been concentrated at Teknaf. At this time the army wished to keep as many Japanese troops as possible occupied on the coast to prevent their movement inland to reinforce the Japanese armies fighting 'Extended Capital', so it was decided that on the night of 26/27 February a large-scale bombardment of Akyab island would be made. This raid involved ML-380, ML-412, ML-416, ML-438, ML-440, ML-441, ML-474, ML-475, ML-476 and ML-831.

These Fairmile motor launches made passage to Akyab and opened fire at 23.00. The opposition consisted of machine gun and limited light artillery fire from the shore, but the launches suffered neither damage nor casualties and returned to Teknaf on 27 February after saturating the designated area of the coast with their fire.

Early in March ‘Birdseed’ followed with the object of interrupting Japanese sea traffic in the vicinity of Ramree harbour on the island’s south-west coast. Two forces were employed. The first comprised ML-438, ML-440, ML-476 and ML-477 of the 55th Motor Launch Flotilla, and the second of ML-412 and ML-417 of the 56th Motor Launch Flotilla.

The first force departed on 2 March and entered Heywood Channel. ML-477 was detached to enter Ramree harbour, and the other launches began a patrol between Round and Sagu islands. From this time until early on 3 March a number of small craft and two fairly large fishing boats were intercepted, their crews being taken prisoner 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.

A rendezvous with the 56th Motor Launch Flotilla off Round Island had been arranged for 24.00, but as these two launches not appeared by 00.25 the 55th Motor Boat Flotilla’s craft re-formed and proceeded to Ramree Gates to establish contact with ML-477. This launch was not observed, for her commanding officer had been able to enter Ramree harbour without opposition and decided to undertake 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 (26 km).

Meanwhile the two craft of the 56th Motor Boat Flotilla had been undertaking a sweep down the west coast of Ramree island and at 23.55, about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) north-east of Ramree island, spotted a small country craft. 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 and the launches shaped course back to base. In this operation ML-438 had sunk two boats and captured 12 prisoners, ML-478 had sunk three boats and brought back seven prisoners, and ML-417 had sunk one boat and brought back five prisoners.