Operation Buccaneer

This was a British unrealised plan for the recapture of the Japanese-occupied Andaman islands group (spring 1944).

The British garrison of these islands, of which there are 572, most of them very small, with a total land area of about 2,500 sq miles (6475 km²), and which were administered along with the neighbouring Nicobar islands group, from India, had been withdrawn in March 1942 after the success of the Japanese ‘B’ (iii) in seizing Burma, and in the same month the Japanese had occupied the islands in ‘D’. From the end of 1943 the islands were administered by Subhas Chandra Bose’s Provisional Government of Free India. Both the Andaman and Nicobar islands were of strategic significance for their position in the south-eastern part of the Bay of Bengal between India and Japanese-occupied southern Burma, Thailand and the north-western part of the Dutch East Indies.

The plan was of the amphibious type and, despite the fact that the islands were garrisoned by only a single independent mixed brigade, Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command reckoned that the undertaking would require a force of 50,000 men, whereas Prime Minister Winston Churchill had been working on the assumption that only one division (about 14,000 men) would be needed, and also the support of almost every aircraft carrier which the British possessed as the island group lay well outside the range of any British airbases.

At the inter-Allied ‘Sextant’ conference in Cairo in December 1943 it was decided that the plan could not be implemented for lack of adequate numbers of landing craft, which were needed more urgently for the Pacific and European campaigns (most especially the ‘Neptune’ landing that were to start ‘Overlord’), despite the fact that the recapture of the Andaman islands would have deprived the Japanese of the important airfield at Port Blair, and also provided the Allies with an effective base for the strangulation of Japan’s maritime lines of communication between the Malayan peninsula and Burma at a time when Japanese rail communications and other overland transport capabilities were wholly incapable of meeting the demands of Japan’s forces in Burma.