Operation Pharos

(Greek for lighthouse)

This was British operation to establish an air staging post (later developed into an air base) in the Cocos and Keeling islands group (1943).

The island group was a British possession in the Indian Ocean, to the south-west of Christmas island and at about the mid-point between Australia and Ceylon. The islands comprise two flat and low-lying atolls and 27 coral islands, of which two, West Island and Home Island, were inhabited in an area of 5.5 sq miles (14.25 km˛). The islands have a coastal length of 16 miles (25.75 km) and a maximum elevation of 16 ft (5 m), and are thickly covered with coconut palms and other vegetation. The climate is pleasant, moderated by the south-east trade winds for about nine months of the year and with moderate rainfall. Tropical cyclones may occur in the early months of the year.

From 1943 two airstrips were built, initially to serve the needs of aircraft flying between Ceylon and Western Australia. After this, three bomber squadrons were moved to the islands to conduct raids against Japanese targets in South-East Asia and to provide support during the planned ‘Zipper’ invasion of Malaya and reconquest of Singapore.

The first aircraft to arrive were Supermarine Spitfire Mk VIII fighters of the RAF’s No. 136 Squadron, and later arrivals were Consolidated Liberator long-range heavy bombers of the RAF’s No. 321 (Netherlands) Squadron crewed by men of the Free Dutch forces serving with the RAF. In July 1945 the RAF’s Nos 99 and 356 Squadrons arrived on West Island.