- A.N. Other and NHSA Webmaster
- WWII operations, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2005 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war against Japan was commemorated on 31 Aug 2005 by a gathering of several hundred British and Australian naval veterans of the British Pacific and East Indies Fleets on Cruiser Wharf at Garden Island Dockyard, facing the Harbour Bridge to the west, their solemn hymns and prayers of thanksgiving accompanied by the sterner tones of the RAN Band. This extract of the BPF’s exploits is taken from the script of the late LCDR W O C Roberts RAN’s personal account to Society members, and later bound as a monograph in 1985 1.
British Pacific Fleet Memorial
On the road leading up from Garden Island to Kings Cross, outside the old RAN Fleet Headquarters, there is a plaque on the wall, (since moved to its present place beside the mast, outside Maritime Headquarters, behind HMAS KUTTABUL) dedicated to the British Pacific Fleet, incorporating the Flagship’s (HMS Duke of York) quarterdeck treadplate and ship’s crest. It is, in fact, as far as I am aware, the only memorial to the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) and its personnel, in Australia.
The battleship HMS Duke of York was, in fact, the Flagship of the Commander-in-Chief. She was not actually the flagship of the operational Fleet. She stayed in Sydney most of the time, which is what flagships often do (remember HMAS Stalwart at EMS mooring?). I think it is rather good that there is a memorial, because nobody else, or very few people, seem to know about the Fleet (afterwards known as the “Forgotten Fleet”) as it gradually dispersed and disbanded and returned home, where the war in Europe had long since been over).
I will be mentioning a few, a very few ship names. I do not want to confuse anyone, and the kind of names I will mention are the battleship HMS King George V (known as Kay Gee Five) which was the flagship of the operational Fleet, the two Australian representatives in the operational fleet, the destroyers HMA Ships Quickmatch and Quiberon, and the six armoured aircraft carriers, which were the core of the fleet. Only four of them were ever on station at a time, but these six carriers (You won’t remember the names, but you will remember the kind of names) had names that were handed down from Drake and Nelson: HM Ships Victorious, Formidable, Illustrious, Indomitable, Implacable and Indefatigable. Although nominally based on Sydney, the BPF operated in the Pacific between Formosa and the Philippines and Okinawa.
It so happened that we, in Quiberon, a ship that I will mention once or twice, followed the carrier Indefatigable. The concentric stationing circles provided a very flexible screen in which the Fleet can turn any way it likes, without ships having to race around and alter their respective positions. Selected destroyers known as “plane guard destroyers” are normally kept in position astern of the carrier, ready to pick up any chaps who fall over the side if they miss their attempt to land on.
Many people in Australia have forgotten (or perhaps have never known) that in 1945 Great Britain had a major fleet operating off the Japanese mainland at a distance of 4,000 odd miles from Sydney, and some 16,000 miles from its home ports and ultimate supply source, in weaponry and manpower. Nor has the size of this armada been fully appreciated. The BPF existed from late 1944 to mid 1946, and obviously 1945 was the key year. Ships retired as they became battle or sea-worn, while new and refitted ships came forward. However, during the period of its existence, in total it comprised 274 ships. (i.e. 274 ships were out here – not all at the same time – in Sydney Harbour, made up of 4 KGV class battleships, 6 armoured aircraft carriers – already mentioned – 4 light fleet carriers – sister ships of HMAS Melbourne – 10 escort/maintenance carriers , 10 cruisers, 40 destroyers, 29 submarines – which were based on Fremantle WA, and which we did not really see at all – 64 escorts, 30 auxiliaries and 79 vessels of the Fleet Train, which was essential to keep the Fleet operating for weeks on end, thousands of miles from its base). The carriers between them embarked about 700 aircraft, with many more in reserve at the Naval Air Stations at Schofields (west of Sydney) and Nowra, near Jervis Bay. However, the genesis and deployment of this fleet was not all plain sailing.