Operation Livery

This was a British naval undertaking to clear mines from the waters round Phuket island off the west coast of Japanese-occupied Thailand and to make air attacks on Japanese airfields on the Kra isthmus (19/29 July 1945).

The operation was undertaken by Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Power’s East Indies Fleet, local command being exercised by Vice Admiral H. T. C. Walker.

Departing Trincomalee in Ceylon during 19 July, Group 1 of Force 63 comprised the battleship Nelson, escort carriers Ameer and Empress, heavy cruiser Sussex, and destroyers Paladin, Racehorse, Raider and Rotherham. Group 2 comprised Commander A. E. P. Doran’s 7th Minesweeping Flotilla with Pincher, Plucky, Rifleman, Squirrel and Vestal, and the Indian danlayers Deccan and Punjab to provide navigational support.

The ships of Force 63 steamed through Sombrero Channel during the night of 22/23 July and arrived off Phuket island during the morning of 24 July. The area which had been given the highest priority was cleared of mines in operations carried out on 24, 25 and 26 July, when a total of 24 mines was swept. Of the minesweeping group, Squirrel was mined forward on 24 July. Some 2.5 hours after hitting the mine the vessel took a heavy list, and the survivors were taken off by Rotherham, which then sank the wrecked ship.

In attacks on targets on the Kraa isthmus, British aircraft achieved good results. Three small ships were destroyed and 11 more were strafed in the area of Singora, while 15 locomotives were put out of action and rolling stock was strafed on the railway line between Bandon and Dhungsong. A camp at Huatsei was also bombed. On Sungei Patani airfield six Japanese aircraft were destroyed on the ground, three were left burning and two others were hit. In all these operations the British air loss was just one Grumman Hellcat.

The operations continued over the following two days with little incident, but at 18.30 on 26 July Force 63 came under kamikaze air attack. A Mitsubishi Ki-51 'Sonia' light bomber was shot down by anti-aircraft fire and only narrowly missed Ameer. An Aichi D3A 'Val' dive-bomber was shot down while heading toward Sussex, which was struck by debris but suffered only slight hull damage above the waterline. Another D3A making for the minesweeper Plucky turned at the last moment and hit the minesweeper Vestal, exploding amidships and setting the vessel on fire, causing the vessel to heel and start to sink. Most of the crew abandoned ship, following which Vestal blew up and sank with the loss of 20 members of the crew. Rotherham picked up the survivors and transferred them to Nelson.

The ships of Force 63 departed the operational area during the afternoon of 26 July and returned to Trincomalee, which they reached on 29 July.

'Livery' was the last offensive action undertaken by the Eastern Fleet. Its achievements were 24 mines swept for the loss of two minesweepers. The escort carriers had also launched 150 sorties, destroying 30 Japanese aircraft for the loss of just the single Hellcat.