* World War II -- island territories Indian Ocean

World War II Island Territories: The Indian Ocean

Figure 1.-- The Indian Ocean was not a major theater of World War II and the islands played only minor roles in the War. Its primary importance was keep open to Allied supply ships, many American arrying lend lease supplies, supporing the British Desert Army. The sea lanes to India were also important. Not only the U.S. Navy was involved in this effort, but the U.S. Coast Guard as well. The Poles proved to be the only refugeee group Stalin let escape from Soviet camps. Polish soldiers played a role in the Mediterranean campaign. Agter Allemein and Torch, they played a role in the Iralian campaign. But Stalin not only allowed Polish soldiers he had not murdered to escape, but civilans he had deported after invading Poland with the NAZIs. Most of the civilian deportees died in the desperate effort to escpe Stalin's grasp. Here are some of the lucky few survivors aboard a Coast Guard ship n the Indin Ocean. The Coast Guard caption read, "New Hope for War Orphans: Buffeted by war a group of Polish boy and girl war orphans , taken board a Coast-Guard manned trasportat Bombay, India, are shown as they make their waythrough the Indian Oceanto an undisclosed Allied port where they will find a new life, a new hope, and safety. Here, bare-footed and heavy-hearted, the youngsters attend a shipboard Mass. read by a Polish chaplain.' The photograph was dated December 6, 1944. The same dogged detrmination that led these Polish children out of the Soviet Union would eventually play aey role in destroying the Sovuet tyranny.Source: U.S. Coast Guard. A-47154.

The Indian Ocean was not a major theater of World War II and the islands played only minor roles in the War. The Indian Ocean was important primarily as providing the sea lanes to supply the British 8th Army during the North African campaign. And to maintaimn the sea lanes open to India which was an important support for Britain and to defend India when the Jpanese reached its borders. Both British and American shipping was involved. No major naval battles were fought in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese sent a task force into the Indian Ocean (March-April 1942). The Royal Navy, still using biplanes on their carriers, wisely declined to do battle. This was a huge mirake by the Japanese and thee Japanese could not however maintain a carrier group in the Indian Ocean because of the pressing need to destroy the Anerican carriers who had escaped destruction at Pearl Harbor. After Midway (June 1942), the Japanese no longer had the naval strength to maintain a significant presence in the Indian Ocean beyond limited submarine deployment. The Germans also deployed a few U-bors and surface raiders. The Indian Ocean islands thus played only a minor role in the War. The Andamans were the only Indian Ocean island group (other than the Dutch East Indies) occupied by the Japanese and the scene of terrible Japanese attrocities. The lack of Japanese activity may seem somewhat surprising given the fact that that Singapore at the entrance to the Straits of Malacca connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans became the main Japanese naval base. The Japanese were, however, to hard pressed by the American Pacific Fleet after Midway to resume Indian Ocean operations. Ironically Singapore located at the perifery of the Pacific became important as a Japanese naval anchorage because oil was so scarce in the Home Islsands that Japan could not base the main units of the Imperial Navy there. Its location also shielded the Imperial Fleet from the American Pacific Fleet. Ceylon was targeted in the Japanese Indian Ocean raid. Ceylon's principal importance was the supply of raw materials to the Allies. Madagascar was after the fall of France controlled by Vichy for a time and there was some German and Japanese submarine activity supported there.

Andaman islands

The Andaman Islands were part of the British Raj. Brititish authorities used the Viper Chain Gang Jail on Viper Island was reserved for difficult prisoners during the colonial era. Because of its isolation, it was used to jail important independence activists. movement. The Japanese after launching the Pacific War with the attack on Pearl Harbor were able to dominate the Pacific Ocean and for a brief period the Indian Ocean. A powerful Imperial Navy cruiser squadorn and the light carrier Ryūjō, seized the island (March 23, 1942). The purpose was to secure the Japanese Army's seaward flank as it completed the occupation of Burma. The Islands proved of little value to the Japanese, especially after Midway (June 1941) when Japan's naval dominance ended. The Imperial Navy concentrated its forces for the battles with the U.S. Navy around the Solomons in the South Pacific. And the Japanese no longer committed important elements for Indian Ocean operations. Ryūjō survived Midway, but was sunk in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons (August 1942). The Japanese used the Islands as a submarine and seaplane base. Given the minor importance of the Andamans, the British with limited available resources did did not attempt to retake them. The Japanese used the Islands for propaganda purposes. Japanese authorities placed the Islands under the nominal control of the Arzi Hukumat-e-Azad Hind (Provisional Government of Free India--PGFI) under the leadership of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. Bose did visit the Islands and renamed them as Shaheed (Martyr) & Swaraj (Self-rule). With Japanese cameras rollin, Bose raised the flag of Indian independence (December 30, 1943). This was of course a fiction as the Japanese were in total control. Much of the British Sikh garrison joined Bose's Indian National Army (INA). INA General Loganathan was appointed Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which had been annexed to Bose's PGFI. It would be virtually the only part of India that the PGFI would obstensibly control. The Japanese during their occupation commiitted terrible attrocities. The British commander was brutally tortured and then beheaded. The Japanese commander had not the slightest idea that Japan could lose the War. Most of the Japanese attrocities during the occupation were committed against the local population as few Btitains lived there. The PGFI was not responsible for the attrocities, but as they had no real authority, were unable to protect the local population from the Japanese. As on other islands, the Japanese occupied, food became very scarce and the garrison's primary activity was finding food. This became an increasingly serious problem as the Japanese naval and merchant shipping losses made it increasingly difficult to supply isolated naval garrisons. Royal Navy units targeted Japanese facilitilies on the Adamans and intercepted supply ships which the Japanese were forced to send without escorts. (1944-45). he Japanese as a final attrocity rounded up and executed 750 civilians in the Port Blair area. This seems largely designed to eliminate witnesses to their occupation attrocities. The British after the Japanese surrender (August 1945), had many colonial possessions to reooupy that took higher priority, including Malay, Singapore, and Hong Kong with POWs in terrible condition. The primary problem was the shortage of shipping. Thus the British reoccupation of the Andamans was delayed (October 7-10, 1945).


The British Crown Colony of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in sharp contrast to India after the outbreak of World War II pledged its support to Britain. Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka assured the British of its continued support. Ceylon's principal imprtance during World War II was a source of raw materails to the British. With the loss of Malaya, Ceylon was the only remaining source of natural rubber. An efficient rationing was instituted and the Ceylonese were comparatively well fed than the Indians. Ceylon was provided strategically placed Royal Navy bases. Japanese possession of Ceylon would have cut off Australia from Britain and well as the British forces defending India from the Japanese. After the fall of Singapore the Royal Navy's East Indies Station was moved to Colombo and then to Trincomalee. One of these least noted naval campaigns of World War II was the Indian Ocean engaements during early-1942. Admiral Nagumo with the First Air Fleet entered the Indian Ocean with a force of five carriers and four fast battleships as well as accompanying cruisers and destroyers (March 26, 1942). Three days earlier the Japanese had seized the Andaman Islands to control the waters around Rangoon (March 23). The Japanese paln was to supply the army in Burma by sea. This was the most powerful naval formations to enter the Indian Ocean. The purpose appears to have been to support Imperial Army operations in Burma and escort a convoy to Rangoon which the Japanese Army had seized (March 8). Nagumo's force than struck the British naval base in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where the Royal Navy had been building up a substantial naval force. Incredibly this was a larger carrier force than Admiral Yamamotyo would deploy 2-months later against Midway. The force succeeded in sinking the British light carrier HMS Hermes, two cruisers, and smaller ships. The Royal Navy was astonished with the power of the Japanese carrier force. At this stage of the War, the Japanese carrier aircraft were far superior to British carrier aircraft. The Royal Navy was still using bi-planes. After the engagement the Royal Navy retired from the eastern Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean might be condidered a backwater of the War, but it was through Indian Ocean convoys that the British forces in the Western Desert (Egypt) as well as Royal Navy forces in the eastern Mediterranean were being supplied at the time. It is unclear what the value of Nahumo's campaign was. Driving the Royal Navy out of the eastern Indian Ocean to secure the appraoches to Rangoon was a failure. The American military victory at Midway (June 1942) meant that the Japanese would never again be able to commit an important force to the Indiuan Ocean, meaning that Ceylon would never again be threatened. At the time the only creditable threat to Japan was the badly mauled American Pacific fleet and its four priceless carriers. Any reasonable assessment of the military situation would suggest that Japan should have focused on bringing the U.S. Pacific fleet to battle so as to get at those carriers. It is unclear just what the purpose of this powerful force was. It was far beyond what was needed to escort a convoy to Rangoon. We suspect it was the Japanese samarai spirit--a lust for a naval battle with the British. They could have seized Ceylon, but this would take ground forces. They also could have attacked British facilities in India. While Nagumo had some success against the Royal Navy force, the Royal Air Force from bases in Ceylon downed or damaged some Japanese planes. Nagumo had dispersed the British nsval forces--but they were never a threat. The American Pacific fleet carriers were -- a very real threat. The British had somewhat reduced the combat effectiveness of the First Air Fleet. More importantly, the American carriers were given two precious months to prepare for the inevitanle showdown with the Japanese.

Christmas Island

Christmas Island is often thought of as a Pacific island as it is so close to the Dutch East indies/ndonesia, 185 miles south of Java. But it is an Indian Ocean island. After the occupation of Java, Japanese Imperial General Headquarters ordered Operation X, the invasion of Christmas Island (March 14, 1942). The ensuing Battle of Christmas Island was a small engagement lauched 2 weeks later (March 31). Because the Indian garrison mutinied against their British officers, the Japanese invasion force occupied Christmas Island without a fight. The American submarine Seawolf torpedoed and severly damaged the Japanese cruiser Naka. The Japanese were interested in the remote island for three reasons. First, it was a useful control post for operation in east Indian Ocean. Second, the islnd was essentilly a huge rock of phosphstes and the Japanese needed phosphates for their war industry. Third, the newly seized Southern Resource Zone (SRZ) was not secure as long as Australia remained an Allied bastion. Christmas Island was the beginning of the Japanese effort to cut off and isolate Australia. This of course meant the Pacific and the sea laneses betweem the Americn West Coast and Australia. The major effort was to be Operation FS to the east of Australia targetting the many islands there.

Maldive Islands

The British during World War II began building a small naval base on the Maldives--Port T (1941). It was an isolated island base with a safe, deep anchorage. Its facilities were used extensively by the Royal Navy. The six major islands were garrisoned by the 1st Royal Marine Coast Defence Regimen. The RAF first had a presence on Hithadoo when RAF personnel from RAF China Bay in Ceylon serviced the RAF Short Sunderland and PBY Catalina flying boats that were flying regularly into the Addu Atoll lagoon. Royal Navy engineers had builtb an airstrip on Addu Atoll/Gan island (August 1941) for the Fleet Air Arm. The Battle of the Java Sea and the fall of Singapore (February 1942) essentially desroyed Allied naval power in the South Pacific. This opened the way for the Japanese entry into the Indian Ocean. Admiral Nagumo led a Japanese carrier raid into the Indian Ocean which hammered British bases on Ceylon (April 1942). Although successful, it seems to have been a senless diversion from the primary tactical need to destroy the American carriers. The Japanese at the time did not know about the base on the Maldives. THe American carrier victory at Midway (June 1942), meant that major Japanese feet units would not be committed to the Induan Ocean. Axis submarines and raiders, hiowever, were active. The Italian auxiliary cruiser (a converted banana boat) Ramb I was part of the Italian Red Sea Flotilla. Escaping from Massawa as the British retook Ethiopia and Italian East Africa. Ramb I was intercepted and sunk by HMNZS Leander west of the Maldives (February 1941). U-532 sank the Tashina using its deck gun northeast of the Maldive Islands (October 1943). U-183 sank the tanker British Loyalty in the Maldives, somehow getting a torpedo through the anti-submarine nets protecting the lagoon (February 1944). At the end of the War, the British either removed or abandoned all military installations.


After the fall of France (June 1940), French authorities on Madagascar remained loyal to Vichy. The French do not interfere with German U-boats and Japanese submarines operating in the Indian Ocean from obtaining supplies on the island. The British land forces at Ambarartra Bay (May 5, 1942). The area was held by French French Senegalese troops. The lndings were not heavily resisted. Swordfish torpedo planes from HMS Illustrious sink a French armed merchant cruiser and the submarine Beveziers. More modern Sea Hurricanes and F4F Martlet (Wildcat) fighters from HMS Indomitable and Illustrious destroy the French aircraft on the island. The British rapidly press forward to Diego Suarez, at the northern tip of the island defended by the Antsirane Fort. The fort is defended by 75mm artillery which destroy some of the British tanks. Welch Fusiliers seized the fort. The British occupation of the island make it much more difficult for U-boats to operate in the Indian Ocean and helped secure the all-important supply lines to the British 8th Army locked in a desperate struggle with the Afrika Korps in the Western Desert.


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Created: 8:14 PM 4/14/2016
Last updated: 7:26 PM 5/20/2018