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The Eastern Fleet and the Indian Ocean, 1942–1944 (Paperback)

The Fleet that Had to Hide

Maritime Military WWII

By Charles Stephenson
Imprint: Pen & Sword Maritime
Pages: 336
Illustrations: 30 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526797766
Published: 23rd February 2022



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The story of the British Eastern Fleet, which operated in the Indian Ocean against Japan, has rarely been told. Although it was the largest fleet deployed by the Royal Navy prior to 1945 and played a vital part in the theatre it was sent to protect, it has no place in the popular consciousness of the naval history of the Second World War. So Charles Stephenson’s deeply researched and absorbing narrative gives this forgotten fleet the recognition it deserves.

British pre-war naval planning for the Far East is part of the story, as is the disastrous loss of the battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse in 1941, but the body of the book focuses on the new fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir James Somerville, and its operations against the Japanese navy and aircraft as well as Japanese and German submarines. Later in the war, once the fleet had been reinforced with an American aircraft carrier, it was strong enough to take more aggressive actions against the Japanese, and these are described in vivid detail.

Charles Stephenson’s authoritative study should appeal to readers who have a special interest in the war with Japan, in naval history more generally and Royal Navy in particular.

As featured in

Ships Monthly - July 2023

"Stephenson’s meticulous account is supported by a wide range of both primary and secondary sources. This is a rarely discussed topic, but nevertheless relevant if one is to appreciate an important interlude in the long history of the Royal Navy in a region it was soon to abandon for the last time."

Warship Annual - 2023

Providing a worthwhile narrative on a less well-known subject, this book serves as a reminder that, even during a global conflict, kinetic action remains only a part of what navies ask warships to do.

The NYMAS Review

Review as featured in

Highlight: 'This book gives the British Far East Fleet the recognition it deserves. An authoritative study which will appeal to matelots and landlubbers alike.'

FEPOW Family Book Club

"The book overall serves as a good introduction to British naval operations that are far too often given scant coverage in general accounts of the naval history of the Second World War."

The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord (Volume 32, No. 1, Published 1 November 2022), the journal of the Canadian Nautical Research Society/Société canadienne pour la recherche nautique.

"The Eastern Fleet is relatively unknown today since the operations in the Indian Ocean receive little coverage beyond the loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse at the beginning of the war. This book addresses that imbalance with a thoroughly researched and detailed narrative. The author brings Eastern Fleet activities to the fore with good descriptions of its personalities, ships, and actions."

WWII History Reviews June 2022

Featured in

Intelligence and National Security Journal

I enjoyed this book – it gives us an account of an often neglected part of the war at sea, and of the achievements of Admiral Somerville, who kept his fleet intact in the face of a potentially overwhelming opponent, then was willing to acknowledge that his fleet needed to improve massively before it could take on the Japanese.

Read the full review here

History of War

"...[a]detailed and well-researched history..."

Naval History - June 2021 issue

Featured on

Bru Ships Youtube Channel, Episode 28.

The wartime activities of the British Eastern Fleet which operated against the Japanese in the Indian Ocean has received scant attention by authors being largely overshadowed by the Battle of the Atlantic, naval operations in the Mediterranean and, more recently, by accounts of the Arctic Convoys. Indeed, I have met those who believed that virtually all Naval operations in the Pacific were conducted by the American Navy. The sub title reflects the sad fact that whilst the Eastern Fleet was the largest fleet deployed by the Royal Navy but before 1945 it was especially vulnerable to attacks from Japanese aircraft and submarines until reinforced with an American aircraft carrier. Consequently, for reasons of survival during these years, it was necessary for the Fleet to evade the enemy rather than take more aggressive action. The author ranges from the grand strategic, such as the strategic priorities laid out by the CinC, Admiral Sir Brooke-Popham, for his command which relegated the Eastern Fleet to the bottom of the pile, to the sub-tactical, for example, in his excellent account of the raid by members of the Calcutta Light Horse and Calcutta Scottish on German “spy ships” in Mormugao Harbour on Goa. This meticulously researched, outstandingly clear, well written and absorbing account is long overdue and will most likely become a standard work. The text is most helpfully supported by over 80 pages of detailed end notes referenced to each Chapter and a detailed index. This is not only a book for naval historians but also for anyone with an interest in the War in the Indian Ocean region. Highly recommended.

Military Historical Society

A well written and absorbing account of the role played by this important but neglected force.

Centre for Maritime Historical Studies, University of Exeter

"The author succeeds in this well-researched and documented book to bring to light the British Eastern Fleet, which operated in the Indian Ocean until the strong British Pacific Fleet took the war to the Japanese home islands."


Featured on the ‘Buy the book’ page

Model Boats, April 2021

Review by Paul Ridgway, IMF's Correspondent at London

Charles Stephenson's well-researched and absorbing narrative gives this forgotten fleet the recognition it deserves.

SeaGull Feb 21 - Apr 21

Charles Stephenson’s well-researched and absorbing narrative gives this forgotten fleet the recognition it deserves over fifteen chapters many of which include valuable eye-witness reports.

Read the full review here

Africa Ports

Reviewed by Tim Coyle

Stephenson’s 80 pages of notes and source references give plenty of material for those who want to ‘learn more’; however the general reader, and indeed the specialist, can be satisfied with this expertly written and absorbing study of the Eastern Fleet and the Indian Ocean 1942-1944.

Click here to read the full review

Australian Naval Institute

As featured via reader competition

Inside Flintshire, January 2021

A thoroughly enjoyable read and highly recommended.

Peter Wykeham-Martin

About Charles Stephenson

Charles Stephenson is a native of, and still lives in, north Wales. As an established author of military, naval, and political history his previous works for Pen & Sword encompass: The Siege of Tsingtau: The German-Japanese War 1914 (2017); Stalin’s War on Japan: The Red Army’s Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation 1945 (2021); and The Eastern Fleet and the Indian Ocean, 1942–1944: The Fleet that Had to Hide (2021).

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