Operation Millet

'Millet' was a British naval attack on targets in the Japanese-occupied Nicobar islands group in the Bay of Bengal with the aim of diverting Japanese attention and efforts from the imminent 'King II' US invasion of Leyte in the Philippine islands group (17/19 October 1944).

The undertaking was planned in the period after 23 August 1944, when Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser succeeded Admiral Sir Richard Somerville in command of the Eastern Fleet, which comprised the battleships Howe, Queen Elizabeth and Free French Richelieu, battle-cruiser Renown, fleet carriers Illustrious, Victorious and Indomitable, 11 cruisers including the heavy cruisers Cumberland, London and Suffolk, and 32 destroyers.

On 24 August Victorious and Indomitable, under the command of Rear Admiral C. Moody and supported by Howe, two cruisers and five destroyers, used their aircraft to strike selected targets at Padang and other points on the coast of south-western Sumatra. On 18 September the two carriers, again supported by Howe with two cruisers and seven destroyers, struck at selected targets near the northern tip of Sumatra as well as photographic reconnaissance of the Nicobar islands group and northern Sumatra. These operations provided very useful combat training to the young and inexperienced pilots of the carrierborne aircraft, but the almost complete lack of any opposition detracted from their value.

Then, to coincide with the US invasion of Leyte in October, Admiral the Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South-East Asia Command was requested to use the Eastern Fleet to create a diversion in the Indian Ocean. Mountbatten opted for an attack on the Nicobar islands group, and Fraser placed a force under command of Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Power to carry it out with a force comprising one battle-cruiser, two fleet carriers, three cruisers and 11 destroyers. This Task Force 63 comprised Task Group 63.1 (battle-cruiser Renown, and destroyers Quilliam, Queenborough and Australian Quiberon of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla), TG63.2 (heavy cruisers Cumberland, London and Suffolk, and destroyers Raider, Relentless, Australian Norman and Free Dutch Van Galen), and TG63.3 (fleet carriers Indomitable and Victorious, fighter direction cruiser Phoebe, and destroyers Whelp, Wakeful, Wessex and Wager).

On 17 and 19 October the British made air attacks on the islands, on 17 October TG63.2 undertook a gunfire bombardment of Japanese targets, and during the night of 17/18 October undertook another gunfire bombardment using London, Norman and Van Galen. On 18 November Renown, Suffolk, Quilliam, Queenborough and Raider shelled Japanese targets on the islands. Only negligible opposition was encountered until the morning of 19 October when, in an air battle, seven out of a force of 12 Japanese torpedo bombers were shot down for the loss of three of the carrier aircraft.

As a diversion the attacks had no effect, for the Japanese had already concentrated all their naval forces for the defence of the Philippine islands group.