Operation Opponent (i)

This was a British multi-element naval and convoy operation to strengthen the defences of Malaya (January 1942).

Arriving in Singapore on 13 January, this was the second reinforcement convoy for Malaya after the start of the Japanese ‘E’ (i) invasion, and included several large US liners. The ‘Opponent’ (i) convoy would have been a tempting target for Japanese air attack, but ships’ approach to Singapore was covered by low cloud and heavy rain. Some 80 Japanese bombers, with strong fighter escort, were making a raid on Singapore at this time but did not sight the ships, and while 20 Allied fighters succeeded in intercepting this raid they lost three of their own number. So poor was the weather that the Japanese bombers dropped their bombs in salvoes from the clouds with the result that many fell into the sea and on waste ground, only a few falling in the city, where they caused some 200 civilian casualties.

Thus the convoy arrived without interception, the ships then being unloaded as quickly as possible and leaving Singapore without delay. The land force reinforcements landed were Brigadier C. L. B. Duke’s 53rd Brigade of Major General M. B. Beckwith-Smith’s 18th Division, the 16th Heavy and 35th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiments, and the 85th Anti-Tank Regiment, while the air force reinforcements comprised 51 crated Hawker Hurricane fighters, 24 pilots and the advance parties of Nos 17, 135, 136 and 232 Squadrons. Most of the Hurricane fighters were at once dispersed to concealed positions, where they were quickly erected and moved to adjacent airfields for air tests.

Great but vain hopes were placed upon the new fighters as the means whereby the Allied forces could regain air superiority over central Malaya.

Another element of the undertaking was the delivery of 48 Hurricane fighters for Nos 232 and 258 Squadrons to Batavia on Java in the Netherlands East Indies on 27 January from the fleet carrier Indomitable, which had departed Port Sudan on 15 January escorted by the Australian destroyers Napier, Nestor and Nizam.