This was the British reoccupation of Penang island on the west coast of Malaya after the surrender of Japan (3 September 1945).
The operation had originally been planned as an amphibious assault for implementation on 30 August 1945 by Brigadier C. R. Hardy’s 3rd Commando Brigade but, as a result of the ‘Terminal’ inter-Allied conference held at Potsdam in late July and early August 1945, the headquarters of Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command started to consider actions which might prove necessary if the Japanese capitulated in the near future, and on 5 August Lieutenant General Raymond A. Wheeler, Mountbatten’s American deputy, ordered the three commanders-in-chief to begin planning for an emergency occupation of Singapore.
The most readily available army formations were Major General E. C. R. Mansergh’s Indian 5th Division in Burma and Hardy’s British 3rd Commando Brigade in India, neither of which was involved in the ‘Zipper’ operation as currently envisaged. As a show of force in Malaya might be required, it was agreed that the ‘Zipper’ assault landings at Port Dickson and Port Swettenham should still be carried out but, as the movement to Indian ports of the troops earmarked for them and the loading of stores could not be accelerated, it would not be possible to bring the operation’s launch date forward from 9 September.
This meant that the reoccupation of Singapore would probably precede ‘Zipper’, so it was decided that Penang should first be taken to provide an advanced naval anchorage and air staging base between Rangoon and Singapore. The earliest date on which the 3rd Commando Brigade could reach Penang was 26 August, and therefore to avoid any possibility in the appearance of a vacuum between any Japanese surrender and the reappearance of the British, a plan was created whereby a British naval force, carrying a force of Royal Marines, would arrive off the island on 21 August and conduct negotiations for its surrender. If these were successful, the Royal Marines would then occupy the island, being relieved by the commando brigade when it arrived on 26 August. A detachment of Royal Marines was also to occupy Sabang island off the northern tip of Sumatra, since it was needed to provide shelter for small craft.
The fleet would then steam to the south-east to Singapore and undertake surrender negotiations on 27 August and, these being successful, two brigades of the Indian 5th Division would land and occupy the island on 28 August, with the division’s third brigade arriving by air during the same day.
The swift occupation of Singapore required that a channel be cleared through the minefields in the Strait of Malacca for the troop convoys and their naval escorts, and this in turn needed the occupation of Penang and the subsequent negotiations there with the Japanese who were to hand over charts of their minefields.
Under the command of Vice Admiral H. T. C. Walker, the naval strength for 'Jurist' comprised Force 11 with the battleship Nelson, the escort carriers Attacker, Hunter, Shah and Stalker, the light cruisers Ceylon and Nigeria, the destroyers Petard, Tartar and Volage, and the landing ships Prinses Beatrix and Queen Emma; Force 12 with the destroyers Verulam and Vigilant and eight yard minesweepers; Force 13 with the destroyer Penn and LST 383 loaded with vehicles; Force 14 with the escort destroyer Calpe and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Bela and Empire Salvage; Force 68 with the heavy cruiser London and destroyers Raider and Rocket; and Force 157 with the Indian sloop Godavari, Baracuda, British repair ship Mull of Galloway, tanker Cromwell, 26 motor launches of the 34th, 38th and 56th Motor Launch Flotillas, and nine harbour defence motor launches of the 110th Harbour Defence Motor Launch Flotilla.
Also involved was a substantial force of minesweepers as any operations to the south of the One Fathom Bank in the Strait of Malacca were dependent on establishing a safe channel through the minefield in the area. All available fleet minesweepers therefore departed Colombo in Ceylon on 15 August to proceed to the east. This force comprised four minesweepers and two danlayers of the 6th Minesweeper Flotilla (minesweepers Friendship, Lennox, Lightfoot and Persian, and danlayers Immersay and Lingay and seven minesweepers of the Indian 37th Minesweeping Flotilla (Baluchistan, Kathiawar, Khyber, Kumaon, Orissa, Oudh and Rajputana).
On 17 August, the minesweepers Pelorus and Gozo departed Colombo to overtake the 6th Minesweeping Flotilla, and were joined by the Indian minesweeper Bengal and oiler Cherryleaf, but Gozo had to turn back on 23 August with a technical defect.
The fleet minesweepers and attendant oilers were subsequently formed into Force 155.
As a result of the delay imposed on the operation, the minesweepers were ordered to proceed to the lee of Simalur island, the most northerly of the chain of islands off the west coast of Sumatra, where they anchored in Lugu Sibabu during the afternoon of 22 August.
The oiler Orangeleaf departed Colombo on 25 August to join Force 155, and on the following day the minesweepers Melita and Indian Rohilkand and Carnatic also departed Colombo to augment Force 155, and were joined by the repaired Gozo from Trincomalee before losing Carnatic, which had to turn back with defects.
Part of this East Indies Fleet commitment, together with the minesweepers of Force 12, had already departed Trincomalee in Ceylon when there arrived from General Douglas MacArthur an order specifying that there were to be no landings in Japanese-occupied territory until the surrender document had been signed, and with the postponement of the Penang operation, planned for 21 August, the relevant British forces had to anchor off the Great Nicobar islands group and the west coast of Sumatra. This area at Trinkat Champlong on the north-east coast of Great Nicobar island provided a bay and shelter from wind and swell, and here the motor launches and yard minesweepers were able to refuel while larger units remained at sea in the vicinity.
Since the preliminary surrender documents which the Japanese were to sign in Rangoon on 28 August allowed minesweeping and the Allied use of Japanese coastal waters, Walker was ordered on 27 August to move once more. Thus Walker’s Force 11 and Commodore A. L. Poland’s Force 68 anchored off Penang and Sabang respectively during the morning of 28 August. The rest of the British force arrived off the coast of Malaya on 29 August, but adverse weather forced the small ships to anchor in the lee of Langkawi island.
The ships of Force 155 anchored to the west of Sigli island on 29 August, and on the following day made passage toward the Strait of Malacca. Meanwhile, on 27 August, Chameleon, Pincher, Plucky, Recruit and Rifleman of the 7th Minesweeping Flotilla, with the Indian vessels Punjab, Deccan and Bihar to serve as danlayers, had departed Colombo to join Force 155.
At 12.00 on 28 August Nelson, accompanied by the light cruiser Ceylon, escort carriers Hunter and Attacker, three destroyers and two large infantry landing ships carrying the Royal Marine landing party, arrived off Penang, and Commodore A. C. Poland and the small force of Royal Marines in the heavy cruiser London, accompanied by one destroyer, arrived off Sabang. Senior Japanese officers signed undertakings that no attacks would be made on the squadrons and gave details of all minefields on the Malayan and Sumatran coasts, in the Strait of Malacca and at Singapore, and on 30 August minesweeping began so that the two ports could be entered as soon as the main surrender document had been signed in Tokyo Bay on 2 September.
Commanding the East Indies Fleet, Admiral Sir Arthur Power departed Colombo on 27 August in Cleopatra and, after calling at Sabang on 29 August, reached at Penang on 1 September. On 3 September the Royal Marine detachment landed and occupied the island of Penang, removing all Japanese to the mainland, and on the same day the Supermarine Spitfire fighters of the RAF’s Nos 152 and 155 Squadrons and the de Havilland Mosquito warplanes of Nos 84 and 100 Squadrons arrived from Rangoon at the end of the first stage of their move to Singapore. On 2 September a detachment of Royal Marines also occupied Sabang.