Operation Sunfish (i)

This was a British naval photo-reconnaissance and shore bombardment undertaking against Japanese positions on Sabang island just off the north-western tip of Sumatra island in the Japanese-occupied Netherlands East Indies, and the ‘Cattle’ carrierborne air attack on Uleeheue on the main island, by Vice Admiral H. T. C. Walker’s ships of Vice Admiral Sir Arthur Power’s East Indies Fleet (8/18 April 1945).

Grumman Hellcat aircraft of No. 888 Squadron, the Fleet Air Arm’s only specialised photo-reconnaissance unit, also undertook reconnaissance of the areas of Port Swettenham and Port Dickson on the western side of Japanese-occupied Malaya.

The ships involved constituted Force 63, with departed Trincomalee in Ceylon on 8 April. In ‘Sunfish’ (i) the ships involved were battleships Queen Elizabeth and French Richelieu, escorted by the heavy cruisers Cumberland and London, and the destroyers Saumarez, Verulam, Vigilant and Virago. These undertook a gunfire bombardment of Sabang on 11 April while the aircraft of the escort carriers Emperor and Khedive, screened by the destroyer Venus and supported by the oilers Lossie and Easedale, provided air cover. At the same time Saumarez, Verulam and Vigilant undertook a gunfire bombardment of Oleelhoe. No shipping was present at Sabang, but the destroyers damaged a small coaster, which was already beached.

On the same day carrierborne aircraft attacked Port Blair in the Andaman islands group and Emmahaven on Sumatra, sinking the submarine-chaser Ch-7 and one small freighter.

The ships of Force 63 were later attacked by 10 Japanese aircraft, of which two were shot down by the British fighters.

On 12 April the ships refuelled from the two oilers, which were operating as Force 70, and London was then detached to Simonstown in South Africa for a refit.

On 14/15 April, after a two-day delay occasioned by the failure of Emperor's catapult, the carrierborne aircraft flew very successful photo-reconnaissance sorties over Penang, Port Swettenham and Port Dickson, losing one of the aircraft but shooting down one Japanese aeroplane. On 16 April, Force 63 again attacked Emmahaven and Padang, achieving hits on one 4,000-ton merchant vessel and the marine workshops. The British fighters shot down one Japanese aeroplane and damaged three aircraft on the ground. Venus and Virago meanwhile made a sweep between the outlying islands and the mainland, from Ayerbangis Bay to Natal Road, and sank six junks.

Force 63 then turned back to Trincomalee, which it reached on 20 April.

Shortly after returning, the East Indies Fleet’s Escort Carrier Squadron was regrouped as the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron, which initially comprised Emperor, Hunter, Khedive and Stalker, but was shortly joined by Ameer, Attacker, Pursuer, Searcher and Trouncer.