Office of Flag Officer Commanding Aircraft Carriers, British Pacific Fleet. •IQth February, 1945. OPERATION " MERIDIAN " The Report of the Proceedings of Force 63 in Operation "Meridian" is forwarded herewith. 2. I am not able to report that the object set, "To put refineries at Palembang out of action ", was achieved. Of the two refineries, Songei Gerong, the smaller, is assessed as out of action on photographic analysis, but Pladjoe, which covers an extensive area and in which the essential plants are widely separated and generally duplicated, needs probably another raid if all work is to stop. 3. The stage was set for such a final raid— fighter opposition largely overcome, enemy special army attack corps shot down, weather possible, position of the Fleet not known— but there was not enough oil. 4. The speeds—13 to 17 knots cruising, 22 knots off the Sumatran coast—were lower than I have been accustomed to use in similar situations, OT would choose to use: even then the oil available proved short by 24 hours' consumption of what was needed. 5. The inter-tropical front, which lay obstinately against the Sumatran coast until the 23rd January, whilst it provided a convenient screen in which to operate, detracted on the whole from success because spray and the torrential rains affected the serviceability of the large number of aircraft necessarily parked on deck. 6. Whilst the weather was bad at 0400, it cleared for flying off at 0600 on the 24th. On the 29th proceedings were hampered by low cloud and rain storms, and the fact that so considerable an air group formed up successfully in such conditions offers a fair measure of the good .drill of the squadrons. 7. The squadrons put the maximum of human endeavour into the execution of the plan; that they achieved so great a measure of success against a not easily accessible and heavily defended target justifies an outlook of high promise for the future, besides being ever most creditable to the officers and mea concerned. I wish in this connection to mention to you in this despatch the name of Major R. C. Hay, D.S.C., Royal Marines, who, as Air Coordinator, controlled the approach and withdrawal of the Striking Forces in a very able manner, obtained a series of valuable photographs, and found time also to shoot down three enemy aircraft with his own guns. 8. The overall cost of the operation in aircraft lost from whatever cause was 41; aircrews 17. Of the 12 aircraft known to have waterlanded the crews of 10 were recovered; the position of the eleventh was never fixed : the last landed within 25 miles of the rescue submarine in the Malacca Straits and was not apparently saved. 9. The relatively high proportion of aircraft waterlanded is a natural reflection of the resolve of aircrews to avoid becoming captive to the Japanese: the resultant rescue problems are sometimes difficult to solve. 10. It seems from their behaviour and subsequent Japanese broadcasts that the Sally* bombers which attacked the Fleet on the 29th January were manned by suicide crews. The aircraft used proved unsuitable for this form of attack. The crews were determined, achieved co-ordination and, flying low, penetrated the inner, carrier, ring; but a plan of attack appeared to be lacking and the aircraft offered easier targets than ever I have seen. The attack was broken in the main by Seafires whose orders were to break off at Bofors range. With total disregard for safety they very courageously followed their targets into point blank pom-pom range of the ships, and in most cases shot down or crippled them. One at least was shot down by a Hellcat which was flown off in the middle of the engagement, and certainly one by ships' gunfire. Generally the fire, and fire discipline, of the Fleet was of a low standard. 11. Whilst not seriously tested, the steaming quality of the Fleet proved adequate for requirements ; but the figures for oil consumption were higher generally than those published. 12. Next to admiration for the work of the. Air Squadrons, my most particular impression from this operation is that Seafire aircraft are unsuitable for sustained ocean warfare. (Signed) PHILIP VIAN, Rear-Admiral. REPORT ON OPERATION " MERIDIAN " NARRATIVE Passage to First Oiling Rendezvous 1. (i) Force 69, consisting of H.M.S. URCHIN (Senior Officer) and R.F.As.t ECHODALE, WAVE KING and EMPIRE SALVAGE, left Trincomalee at 1530 on Saturday, 13th January, 1945, and proceeded to the first oiling rendezvous. (ii) Force 63, consisting of H. M. Ships INDOMITABLE (Flag of Flag Officer Commanding Aircraft Carriers, British Pacific Fleet), VICTORIOUS, ILLUSTRIOUS, INDEFATIGABLE, KING GEORGE V, ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, EURYALUS, CEYLON, GRENVILLE (Captain (D), 25th Destroyer Flotilla), UNDINE, URSA, UNDAUNTED, KEMPENFELT (Captain (D), 27th Destroyer Flotilla), WAKEFUL, WHIRLWIND, WAGER, WESSEX and WHELP, sailed from Trincomalee at 1430 on Tuesday, 16th January, less CEYLON and WESSEX, who stayed to embark mail and radar spares respectively. CEYLON sailed to overtake at 1700. (iii) R.F.A. ARNDALE sailed from Fremantle on 15th January to join Force 69. 2. During the first 'three days, night encounter, aircraft shadowing, interception, destroyer torpedo attack and various gunnery exercises were carried out. 3. (i) WESSEX joined Force 63 at 1930 on 19th January. Force 69 was not in sight on arrival at the rendezvous on 20th January, but was located at 0822 by aircraft. KING GEORGE V, cruisers and destroyers oiled between 0900 and 1850.
(ii) The oilers reported much gear damaged
by destroyers. Weather conditions at the time
were not good, there being frequent rain squalls,
with a moderate southerly swell and wind force
(iii) Force 63 then proceeded, leaving
CEYLON and URCHIN with the oilers.
First Approach to Flying Off Position
4. During the night of 21st-22nd January
and again on the night of 22nd-23rd January,
Force 63 approached the flying off position.
On both nights it was decided to turn back to
the westward, owing to bad weather and unfavourable
5. The final approach of the first operational
period was made on the night of 23rd-24th
January in better conditions. At dawn the
weather was fine with no low cloud: the
mountain range to be crossed by the strike
was clearly visible.
Order of Battle
6. (i) The order of battle of the aircraft on
the strike and sweep was: —
Pladjoe Striking Force
INDOMITABLE, 12 Avengers, 16 Hellcats.
ILLUSTRIOUS, 12 Avengers, 16 Corsairs.
VICTORIOUS, 12 Avengers, 16 Corsairs.
INDEFATIGABLE, 12 Avengers, 12
INDOMITABLE, 4 Avengers, 4 Hellcats.
Fighter Ramrod Sweep over Enemy Airfields
VICTORIOUS, 12 Corsairs.
ILLUSTRIOUS, 12 Corsairs.
(ii) The number of bombers was related to:
(a) The number of fighters available for
(b) Estimate of enemy fighter strength.
(c) Ranging capacity of carriers.
First Strike—Fly Off
7. At 0615 on 24th January the combined
striking force of Avengers, with their fighter
escort, started to fly off from a position seventy
miles east of Engano Island. This force took
departure at 0710. Its target was the key
buildings of the Pladjoe refinery.
8. The second range of aircraft consisted of
the Fireflies of the main strike, the twentyfour
Corsairs of the fighter sweep, and the
small strike on the nearby Mana airfield.
9. Ships were slow in preparing the second
range, and were hampered by aircraft of the
first range returning for emergency landings.
Flying off the second range was not completed
until about 0720. Partly as a result of
this the Fireflies did not join up with the
striking force until that force was approaching
the deployment point.
10. The wind was variable, at one time veering
to the north-east. So long however as the
force manoeuvred to seaward of Position TAf
* Wind force 3—gentle breeze (7-10 knots); force 5—
fresh breeze (16-20 knots).
t Position TA—the flying off position, in latitude 05°
41' S., longitude 103° 32' E.
the wind was sufficiently steady from the northwest
to keep the force fairly near the flying off
First Sweep and Strike—Narrative
11. (i) The fighter sweep passed the main
strike on its outward journey and surprised the
enemy on Lembak airfield. By the time this
sweep had arrived at the Palembang and
Talangbetoetoe airfields the enemy was more
on the alert and flak at the latter airfields was
much more intense and accurate.
(ii) The Ramrod sweep achieved its object
and, by destroying 34 aircraft on the ground
and damaging numerous others, effectively
crippled the enemy's fighter defences.
12. (i) The enemy's air raid warning appears
to have been given at about the time the main
strike crossed the coast.
(ii) The striking force was not intercepted by
enemy fighters until it was within fifteen miles
of the target. A number of enemy fighters,
probably about twenty, attempted to attack the
force from this time onwards. They were
driven off by the fighter escort.
13. (i) The Avengers and Fireflies in their
attacks had to fly through anti-aircraft fire and
a balloon barrage.
(ii) The anti-aircraft i?rc was encountered
from both heavy and light batteries. It was
intense throughout, inaccurate at first, but increasing
in accuracy as the attack progressed.
(iii) The balloons were flying at about 2,000
feet when the striking force approached the
target, and were raised to heights varying
between 4,000 feet and 6,000 feet as the attack
developed. A number of Avengers dived
through the balloon barrage to press home their
(iv) The withdrawal route passed over flak
batteries near Palembang town. The rendezvous
position was half covered with cloud and
some pilots had difficulty in recognising it. The
form up was satisfactorily carried out, however.
14. (i) A first interpretation of <the photographs
of the target during and after the
attack showed probable hits on one power
house, three crude distilleries, two other distillation
units, a cracking plant and a reforming
(ii) The wireless station three miles northwest
of the town was also left in flames.
15. The fighter escort reported fairly stiff
enemy opposition and claimed 13 single and
twin engined fighters destroyed, with six
probables. Japanese broadcasts later admitted
the loss of 14 fighters.
16. Six Corsairs, one Hellcat and two
Avengers failed to return. It is known that
at least two members of the crews made safe
landings and may have been taken prisoner.
In addition, one Corsair pilot and one Seafire
pilot had to bale out over the fleet. Both
were picked up uninjured.
17. The small striking force sent to Mana
reported little activity there. One aircraft was
destroyed on the ground and bombs were
dropped on the runway. One Hellcat pilot
was slightly wounded by A,A, fire.
18. (i) At 0940 the strike started to land on. (This was completed by 1025. An aircraft followed the returning striking force and was recognised on the plot as hostile too late for a successful interception. (ii) The Force retired to the south-west at 22 knots. Withdrawal and Second Oiling .19. At 1415 a group of " four plus " enemy aircraft was detected by radar, the fleet then being 42 miles south of Engano Island. This gfloup circled the island and finally faded to the north-west at 1430., The high Combat Air Patrol, which had been sent out to intercept, was recalled. It is thought that no further attempt was made to locate the fleet. 20. URSA was topped up with oil from KING GEORGE V during 25th January and was detached in the evening to proceed to Cocos Island with signals for despatch. She rejoined while the fleet was fuelling. 21. Force 63, including the aircraft carriers, oiled in two bodies on 26th and 27th January. ILLUSTRIOUS and VICTORIOUS also topped up with aviation spirit. Oiling was slow owing to buoyant hoses parting at the joints. 22. At this stage it had become clear that the fuel situation would allow no more than one further strike at Palembang. Second Strike Plan 23. (i) As a result of experience gained in the first operation the orders for the second strike were modified in two respects. i(ii) First, the fighter sweep was flown in two parts, the timing of the flight plans being such that the two independent squadrons should arrive simultaneously at the two main enemy fighter airfields. The squadrons were ordered to establish patrols over the enemy's airfields on completion of the sweeps. •(iii) Secondly, the bombers were instructed to* turn right handed after bombing and proceed to the rendezvous passing south of the target. This lengthened the withdrawal route, but the alteration was made at the request of the two Avenger Wing Leaders, in order to avoid the heavy A.A. fire encountered round Palembang town. 24. Plans were also made to fly off from an alternative position north of Engano Island. This northern position was not used, as it seemed very unlikely that the enemy would be able to move U-boats to the West Sumatran coast in time to interfere with the operations. Defence of the Fleet 25. It was appreciated that the enemy would know that we intended to strike a second time. They had probably captured prisoners who knew that more than one strike was intended. We had attacked only one of the two main refineries in the first strike, and might reasonably be expected to return to deal with the other. 26. It was therefore decided to reduce the escort of the main strike, make this up to some extent 'by using the Fireflies throughout .as close escort fighters, and retain at Jeast four fighters in each of VICTORIOUS, ILLUSTRIOUS and INDOMITABLE ready to back up the standing air patrol from INDEFATIGABLE. 27. It was not expected that the enemy would be able to reinforce materially his defensive fighters, but it was expected that he would make a real effort to attack the carriers, possibly with one of his special attack squadrons. Order of Battle .28. The order of battle of the aircraft on the second strike and sweeps was: — Songei Gerong Strike INDOMITABLE, 12 Avengers, 16 Hellcats. ILLUSTRIOUS, 12 Avengers, 12 Corsairs. VICTORIOUS, 12 Avengers, 12 Corsairs. INDEFATIGABLE, 12 Avengers, 10 Fireflies. Fighter Ramrod Sweeps Lembak Airfield ILLUSTRIOUS, 12 Corsairs. Talangbetoetoe Airfield VICTORIOUS, 12 Corsairs. Armed Reconnaissance—Mana Airfield INDEFATIGABLE, 2 Fireflies. Second Strike—Flying off 29. Force 63 arrived at Position TA at 0600 on 29th January to find heavy rainstorms in a belt 30 miles off the coast, but the Sumatran mountains apparently clear of cloud. H Hour was postponed from 0615 until 0640. At this time the carriers were in a clear patch between two rainstorms, but others soon arrived. 30. The striking force formed up well, in spite of poor conditions and took departure at 0732, two minutes after the planned time. Their target was the Songei Gerong distillery. 31. The second ranges of aircraft were prepared much more quickly than on 24th January. As a result the Fireflies joined up with the main body before it crossed the coast, and the Ramrod sweeps kept their appointments punctually at the enemy airfields. > 32. The weather conditions round the flying off position improved quickly after 0730 and there was a steady north-westerly wind throughout the operation. Second Strike and Sweep—Narrative 33. The enemy was more alert than he had been on 24th January, and was apparently keeping a standing fighter patrol airborne. The Ramrod sweeps found little on their airfields, but their presence on patrol over the airfields may have prevented the enemy reinforcing his existing patrols. The total claim of these two squadrons was four aircraft destroyed and two damaged. 34. The main strike met no opposition from enemy.fighters until after they deployed. The step-aside deployment plan- used for this target gave our escorting fighters a more difficult task than the circular deployment used at Pladjoe.
The second squadron of the first wing (No. 849 Squadron) reported being attacked on the run in to the target, when they were without close escort of fighters. 35. The enemy's A.A. defences had been improved both in quantity and quality since the first strike. The first squadron to go in (No. 857 Squadron) bore the brunt of the A.A. fire and was lucky not to suffer heavier losses. 36. The balloon barrage was reported to be less severe than at Pladjoe and again many Avengers dived through the balloons to drop their bombs at low altitude. Two aircraft of No. 854 Squadron were lost through colliding with balloon cables. 37. The bombing results were excellent and bombs were concentrated in each of the target areas: important plants which were specific targets received direct hits. Photographs taken during and after the attack show a sea of flames in both the distillery and the power house areas. 38. The withdrawal round to the southwards gave the Avengers a long passage back to the rendezvous. No. 854 Squadron in particular received little support from our escorting fighters during this period and all the aircraft of the squadron were attacked by hostile fighters. The standard of Japanese air gunnery was reported as poor: though all the Avengers suffered some damage none were shot down. Lieutenant (A) G. J. Conolly, R.N.V.R., distinguished himself by shooting down a Tojo* with an Avenger's front guns. 39. The form up at the rendezvous was carried out expeditiously, and the striking force returned to the fleet without being further attacked. The total losses over the target were four Avengers, one Firefly and one Corsair. 40. In the course of air combats the fighter escort claimed seven enemy fighters destroyed and three probably destroyed. . 41. As a result of damage from enemy fighters and A.A. fire, nine aircraft of the strike had to ditch ; the crews of eight were recovered. 42. An armed reconnaissance of Mana airfield by Fireflies found that the only form of activity was a football match. 43. The strike started to land on at 1010, landing on being completed at 1100. Own and Enemy Aircraft Losses 44. Our own losses of aircraft from all causes in both strikes totalled 41: 16 by enemy action, 11 by ditching, and 14 in deck crashes, etc. 38 enemy aircraft were claimed destroyed on the ground, with 30 certainly and 7 probably destroyed in the air. Enemy Air Activity Round Fleet—29th January 45. There was no radar indication of any enemy aircraft in the vicinity of the fleet until 0900. This bogeyf was sighted by Seafires at 0917: it was a fast single engined aircraft which escaped by diving into clouds. 46. At 0939 a few enemy aircraft approached from the north. They probably did not sight Admiralty footnotes:— * Tojo—Japanese army fighter, t Bogey—unidentified aircraft. A 2 the fleet, which was then under low cloud. Seafires were sent to intercept and shot down one Dinah* twenty-eight miles west of the fleet. 47. At 1026 a group of twelve plus enemy aircraft were reported approaching from the north. Corsairs and Seafires of the fighter patrols were vectored out. The Corsairs reported sighting two single engined enemy aircraft carrying bombs which were chased far to the eastward. One Corsair from VICTORIOUS failed to return. 48. At 1028 a few enemy planes were detected passing the fleet on a southerly track some 40 miles to seaward. No fighters were sent to intercept as the enemy seemed to have no knowledge of the fleet's position. 49. At 1152 a raid was detected approaching low from the southward and seven Seafires of the low patrol were sent to intercept. This Seafire patrol was flying wide of the fleet to the northward when given their first vector. They intercepted the raid as it was sighted from the fleet. The enemy formation, which was originally reported by radar as " one large ", consisted of one Helenf and six Sallies. 50. The Combat Air Patrol was due to be changed at this time and three Hellcats took off from INDOMITABLE as the ship opened fire. 51. The standard of fire discipline and fire control in the fleet was low. The enemy attack was broken up by our fighters, which dived in a most determined manner through our own anti-aircraft fire and pressed in to close range of the enemy bombers. 52. The enemy formation attacked from the port quarter of the fleet upwind, height about 50 feet. They broke up when the Seafires intercepted and appeared to try to carry out lowlevel bombing attacks on ILLUSTRIOUS and INDEFATIGABLE. From the form of the attack when it first developed it was thought that the enemy aircraft were carrying torpedoes and tide fleet was accordingly manoeuvred so as to present a difficult torpedo target. 53. Most of the attackers succeeded in reaching the main body and were shot down close to the ships. Of the seven aircraft which attacked, certainly six and probably all seven were destroyed. It is believed that the enemy losses were accounted for by Seafires—two or three Seafires and Corsairs—one Seafires and Hellcats—one Hellcats—one .gunfire—one. 54. During the attack ILLUSTRIOUS was struck by two shells fired by our own forces and suffered 12 fatal casualties and 21 wounded. 55. From 1212 to 1430 the fleet was apparently shadowed by an aircraft which remained 45 to 60 miles to the eastward. It is possible that this aircraft may have been keeping track of us by receiving either our radar or our beacon transmissions. 56. At 1818, a quarter of an hour before sunset, a single aircraft approached from the north-eastward at 15,000 feet. VICTORIOUS'
Corsairs were vectored out to intercept and got within three miles of the bogey. These aircraft had however been brought down to 6,000 feet as it was thought the enemy was diving. After this failure the fighters were recalled in order to land them on before darkness fell. The two last Corsairs landed on about 20 minutes after sunset with clouds reducing the rapidly failing light. 57. The enemy aircraft remained in the vicinity until about 1910. It is doubtful if the fleet was sighted but the enemy appeared to be aware of our approximate position. 58. The fleet was steering a course towards Ceylon while this aircraft was in contact. Third Oiling and Passage to Fremantle 59. Force 63 proceeded westward at 23 knots throughout the night of 29th-30th January in order to join the oilers sufficiently early on 30th January to complete fuelling on that day. Fuelling was started at 1315 and was finished by 2200, all ships with the exception of VICTORIOUS and ILLUSTRIOUS either filling up or topping up for the passage to Fremantle. 60. URSA, after oiling, was detached to take messages to Cocos Island for transmission and to proceed independently. 61. Force 63 arrived at Fremantle at 0600 local time 4th February.