Battle of Christmas Island
|Battle of Christmas Island|
|Part of the Pacific Theatre of World War II|
| United States
|Commanders and leaders|
3 light cruisers
2 troop transports
|Casualties and losses|
|27 captured||1 light cruiser damaged|
The Battle of Christmas Island was a small engagement which began on 31 March 1942, during World War II. Because of a mutiny by Indian soldiers against their British officers, Japanese troops were able to occupy Christmas Island without any resistance. However, the American submarine Seawolf caused severe damage to the Japanese cruiser Naka.
At the time, Christmas Island was a British possession under administrative control of the Straits Settlement, situated 161 nmi (185 mi; 298 km) south of Java. It was important for two reasons: it was a perfect control post for the east Indian Ocean and it was an important source of phosphates, which were needed by Japanese industry.
Rear Admiral Shōji Nishimura was assigned to command the Second Southern Expeditionary Fleet's Occupation Force, with the light cruiser Naka as his flagship. The fleet also consisted of the light cruisers Nagara and Natori, and destroyers Minegumo, Natsugumo, Amatsukaze, Hatsukaze, Satsuki, Minazuki, Fumizuki and Nagatsuki, oiler Akebono Maru and transports Kimishima Maru and Kumagawa Maru, with 850 men of the 21st and 24th Special Base Forces and the 102nd Construction Unit.
Opposing this invasion force was an old 6 in (150 mm) gun brought down from Singapore after World War I, and possibly up to three anti-aircraft guns. The British garrison—a detachment of the Hong Kong and Singapore Royal Artillery—numbered 32, mostly Indian troops led by a British officer and four British NCOs.
The Indian troops, apparently believing Japanese propaganda concerning the liberation of India from British rule, mutinied and killed their sleeping British superiors on 10 March 1942, then locked up the District Officer and the few other European inhabitants of the island pending an execution that apparently was thwarted by the Japanese occupation.
At dawn on 31 March 1942, a dozen Japanese bombers launched the attack, destroying the radio station, which stood roughly where the post office is today. Fragments of bombs dropped were still being found into the 1980s in the Post Office Padang. Because of the mutiny, the Japanese expeditionary corps was able to disembark at Flying Fish Cove without opposition.
At 09:49 the same morning, the American submarine USS Seawolf fired four torpedoes at the Naka; all missed. Seawolf attacked again at 06:50 the following morning, firing three torpedoes at Natori, missing again. That evening, with her final two torpedoes, from 1,100 yd (1,000 m), Seawolf managed to hit Naka on her starboard side, near her No.1 boiler. The damage was severe enough Naka had to be towed back to Singapore by Natori, and eventually was forced to return to Japan for a year of repairs. Following the hit, the other Japanese vessels depth charged the American submarine for over seven hours but it escaped.
Natori returned to Christmas Island and withdrew all elements of the occupation force, with the exception of a 20-man garrison detachment, to Banten Bay, Indonesia on 3 April 1942. All that the Japanese had gained was the phosphate rock which was loaded on the transport ships.
After the war seven mutineers were traced and were prosecuted by a Military Court in Singapore and five were sentenced to death in 1947. The sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after the governments of India and Pakistan made representations.
- Klemen, L (1999-2000). "The Mystery of Christmas Island, March 1942". Forgotten Campaign: The Dutch East Indies Campaign 1941-1942.
- Woodmore, Christmas Island Explorer's Guide
- Blair, Clay, Jr. (1976). 'Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan. New York: Bantam. p. 190. ISBN 9780553010503.
- Tameichi Hara with Roger Pineau (14 June 2013). Fred Saito, ed. Japanese Destroyer Captain. Naval Institute Press. p. 191. ISBN 9781612513744.
- Gill, G. Hermon (1968). Volume II – Royal Australian Navy, 1942–1945. Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Canberra: Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2006-11-20. "On 31st March an enemy force comprising three light cruisers, four destroyers and two transports made an unopposed landing at Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island.)"
- Woodmore, F.P. (1996). Christmas Island Explorer's Guide. Christmas Island: Lone Island Publications. ISBN 0-646-24998-3.- See pp. 28–29, and 111. A traveler's guide to the island, with notes about the island's history (and directions to the old 6" gun position where a memorial to the slain soldiers exists).
- Hara, Tameichi (1961). Japanese Destroyer Captain. New York & Toronto: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-27894-1.- Brief, first-hand account of the battle by the captain of the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze. He personally witnessed the torpedo hit the Naka.