Operation Cockpit was a bombing raid by aircraft from two Allied naval forces (Force 69 and Force 70) on 19 April 1944. The targets were Japanese port and oil facilities on Sabang Island (off the northern tip of Sumatra).
A raid in the Sumatra area had been requested by United States as a distraction from their own operations on Hollandia (now Jayapura). Somerville, the British commander, had selected Sabang for its location at the entrance to the Malacca Strait and its strategic installations, such as a radar station, port and airfields. At this time, Japanese forces in Burma were under pressure and suffering serious supply problems: the raid was expected to exacerbate these problems and thereby assist the British 14th Army. A further gain was the opportunity for Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm crews to work with United States personnel and learn procedures needed for their subsequent deployment as the British Pacific Fleet.
The action had been made possible by the recent substantial increase in the destroyer strength needed to escort the task forces' capital ships.
The raid was launched at 5.30am on 19 April. The strike force was 17 Fairey Barracuda bombers and 13 Vought F4U Corsair fighters from HMS Illustrious, and 29 Douglas SBD Dauntless and Grumman TBF Avenger bombers and 24 Grumman F6F Hellcat fighters from USS Saratoga. The Japanese were caught by surprise; there was initially no fighter opposition. The attackers bombed Sabang harbour and the nearby Lho Nga airfield. They hit two small merchant ships, sinking one and forcing the other aground, and strafed two destroyers and an escort ship, setting them on fire. Twenty-four Japanese aircraft were destroyed on the airfield and a direct hit by a 1000-pound bomb set a large oil tank on fire. The power-station, barracks, and wireless station were badly damaged. The submarine HMS Tactician reported large fires in the dockyard burning fiercely hours after the fleet had left the area. Three torpedo bombers mounted an attack on the strike force, but were destroyed by the combat air patrol.
Twelve US aircraft were hit by anti-aircraft fire; all but one made it back to Saratoga. A single Hellcat crashed into the sea, but the pilot was recovered by Tactician, under fire from shore batteries.
The Japanese had been caught by surprise and the raid was a clear success - Somerville said that the Japanese "had been caught with their kimonos up". The destruction of oil installations and shipping successfully contributed to the cessation of Japanese offensives in the Arakan. There was a follow-up raid on Surabaya, Java in May 1944, named Operation Transom.
Allied order of battle
Force 69: Battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth (flagship of Admiral James Somerville, Commander-in-Chief Eastern Fleet), HMS Valiant and French battleship Richelieu; cruisers HMS Newcastle (flagship of Rear-Admiral A. D. Reid, commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron), HMS Nigeria, HMS Ceylon, HMNZS Gambia and HNLMS Tromp; destroyers HMS Rotherham, Racehorse, Penn, Petard, HMAS Quiberon, Napier, Nepal, and Nizam and HNLMS Van Galen.
Force 70: Battlecruiser HMS Renown (flagship of Vice-Admiral A. J. Power, second-in-command Eastern Fleet); aircraft carriers HMS Illustrious (flagship of Rear-Admiral Clement Moody, commanding aircraft-carriers), USS Saratoga; cruiser HMS London; destroyers HMS Quilliam, Queenborough, Quadrant, USS Dunlap, Cummings and Fanning.
- Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War. London: Hambledon Continuum. p. 303. ISBN 1-85285-417-0.
- The British Pacific Fleet: The Royal Navy's Most Powerful Strike Force
- British Aircraft Carriers: Design, Development & Service Histories
- French Battleships 1922-1956
- Operation Pacific
- "The Royal New Zealand Navy (p359)". NZETC. Retrieved 2007-07-30.
- Jackson, Ashley (2006). The British Empire and the Second World War. London: Hambledon Continuum. pp. 303 & 398. ISBN 1-85285-417-0.
- "The Royal New Zealand Navy (pp 358 & 359)". NZETC. Retrieved 2007-07-30.