The Darkest Hour, Volume 2: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942- The Attack Against Ceylon and the Eastern Fleet
This is the second of a two-series amazingly detailed books authored by a Polish Ph.D. in Law, living in Japan, writing about Japanese advances in the eastern Indian Ocean. As if that isn’t intriguing enough, author Michał A. Piegzik covers a little known (at least to most Americans) subject in a much larger backdrop of Allied defeats in the early Pacific War, focusing on ABDA (American, British, Dutch, Australian) forces as they reeled from Japanese attacks in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Java, and Burma. For more background information on Michał A. Piegzik, please refer to my earlier review on The Darkest Hour, Volume 1.
If you read my book review on Volume 1, then I apologize for repeating myself here; however, as a standalone review, some background is necessary to put the book in context.
The Japanese, and particularly the Imperial Navy, knew that they had to hit the Allies quickly and deliver devastating blows early as they couldn’t afford a protracted war. Concurrently with the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a series of attacks by sea, air, and land in Southeast Asia during “Southern Operation” (Nampo Sakusen), focusing on the Philippines, British Malaya, and American bases in the Central Pacific. The Japanese continued their successes and by January 1942, they attacked British Borneo and the Dutch East Indies. Surprised by their early victories, the successful execution of Namp Sakusen provided the Japanese three main offensive options, of which they could only focus on one due to the vast distances involved and limited resources:
- Eliminate Australia from the war.
- Extend operations to the Indian Ocean.
- Seek a decisive battle with America in the Pacific Ocean.
This book focuses on the option chosen – the Indian Ocean with a supported campaign in the Bay of Bengal.
The Japanese plan was to defeat the Allied Navy, then focus on capture of Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) off the southeastern coast of India to control the Indian Ocean and sever British shipping lanes to the Middle East, thus securing their western flank for future operations against their greatest opponent – the US Navy. The Tripartite Agreement with Germany and Italy created the exclusive zone of influence of the Empire of Japan and would be established east of meridian of 70o E, including most of India and Ceylon. The Empire of Japan wanted a “gathering of the eight corners of the world under one roof (hakko ichiu)” and was also promoted as the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Under this concept, all non-Japanese people were subject to barbaric treatment, to include the native people of Burma and India that they hoped to swing to their side to counter the British.
The Darkest Hour, Volume 2: The Japanese Naval Offensive in the Indian Ocean 1942- The Attack Against Ceylon and the Eastern Fleet picks up where Volume 1 left off, on the eve of their carrier attacks on Ceylon. The Nippon Kaigun (Imperial Japanese Navy) and its main naval campaign in the eastern Indian Ocean from late March through early April 1942, including “Mobile Force” (Kidō Butai), the name for the combined carrier battle group composing most of the aircraft carriers and carrier air groups of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the Malay Force to support their operations in Burma and The Bay of Bengal. The Japanese hoped their use of the new carrier raid and attack strategy used successfully at Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) and Darwin (19 February 1942) could be repeated against the Royal Navy’s Eastern Fleet before they focused on the American Navy threat in the Pacific Ocean. The book is focused on this campaign and is broken down with eight chapters, nine appendices, an extensive bibliography, and nine tables.
The Japanese operation focused on the Kidō Butai’s five aircraft carriers and their escorts to destroy the British Eastern Fleet and bases on Ceylon, thus securing their western flank, while also allowing the Malay Force to severely disrupt Allied shipping in the Bay of Bengal and the coast of India. The British focus was to preserve their Eastern Fleet for future operations against the Japanese. What follows is a great naval campaign of cat and mouse with the Japanese seeking an ultimate showdown and the British avoiding so at all costs. The British lost their aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and the destroyer HMAS (His Majesty’s Australian Ship) Vampire in one engagement and two cruisers (HMS Cornwall and Devonshire) in another. The Malay Force sunk an additional 20 Allied cargo ships and damaged an additional three. Japanese losses were negligible.
In addition to the detail throughout the book, the Epilogue and Japanese Summary and Reaction chapters deserve special merit. The author examines both British and Japanese lessons learned. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill summed it as such,
“Japanese success and power in naval air warfare are formidable. In the Gulf of Siam two of our first-class capital ships had been sunk in a few minutes by torpedo aircraft. Now two important cruisers had also perished by a totally different method of air attack – the dive bomber.
Nothing like this had been seen in the Mediterranean in all our conflicts with the German and Italian Air Forces.”
Michał A. Piegzik did an outstanding job with after action reports, aircraft weapon loading plans, rearmament times, and other details often ignored. It was these lessons, learned by both Allied and Japanese combatants, that led to different outcomes in future naval campaigns. This book fills a vast gap between the first Japanese strikes in Pearl Harbor and the Far East, to the Battle of Midway.
The book is presented logically, complete with photographs of the major leaders and operations, maps, tables and even a colour (written in the Queen’s, now the King’s English) profile section composing the following six chapters:
- Raid on Colombo
- The Sinking of HMS Cornwall and HMS Dorsetshire
- Raid on Trincomalee
- British Counter-attack and the Sinking on HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire
- Kidō Butai retreats
- Malay Force in the Bay of Bengal
- Japanese Summary and Reaction
Complete with nine appendices:
- Composition of the Kidō Butai striking group during the raid on Colombo on 5 April 1942
- The Japanese CAP pursuit after Graham’s Catalina, 5 April 1942
- The composition of the Special Striking Group during the attack on Cornwall and Dorsetshire, 5 April 1942
- Hiryū’s air reconnaissance missions (Kates) and anti-submarine patrols (Vals), 7 April 1942
- Composition of Kidō Butai’s striking group during the raid on Trincomalee, 9 April 1942
- Composition of the Special Striking Group against Hermes and other British ships, 9 April 192
- Japanese CAP during No. 11 Squadron attack on Kidō Butai, 9 April 1942
- Kidō Butai’s losses during the operation in the Indian Ocean, 4-9 April 1942
- Operations of Ryūjō’s air group against Allied shipping in the Bay of Bengal, 6 April 1942
This book is also a boon for modelers of the Japanese conquests in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. There is a plethora of black and white photos of belligerent naval and aircraft. On the British side, there are Sea Hurricanes, Fulmars, Grumman Martlets (Wildcat), Catalinas, and Blenheims. As the Japanese side was extensively covered in Volume 1, the Japanese color profiles are reflected in a WWII colored postcard painting of the HMS Cornwall under air attack and the ingenious Japanese aircraft carrier landing light system.
This is a great companion book on a little-known period in World War II; while either Volume 1 or 2 could be read independently, the strength is having both volumes to cover this essential and vital campaign at the height of Japanese expansion. The details are incredibly researched (down to aircrew names), maps clearly explain the campaign, and the photos and drawings are immaculate. My two niggles are minor, but the first would be inclusion of more Japanese aircraft in the color profile section; while most of the major airframes were covered in Volume 1, the Japanese reconnaissance aircraft not covered earlier would be fine additions, or just a quick summary of the major airframes (Kate, Val and Zero) would add greatly to Volume 2. The second suggestion would be for a future release to combine both volumes into one (and thus negating my first niggle).
Profuse thanks to Casemate (https://www.casematepublishers.com) and IPMS-USA for providing the review sample.