From: Northwestern Georgia, USA
Eastern Fleet HQ
8 December 1941
Captain Ormond Pyle had just endured a memorably jarring lorry ride from Colombo back to fleet headquarters at Trincomalee. He fire team had completed its assigned task. At 2200 hours on 7 December, ships transporting naval support detachments had cleared the harbor bound for three “breakwater’ destinations: SS Pellicula for Diego Garcia, SS Clan Forbes and SS Troja for Cocos Island, and SS Michael Livanos for Port Blair.
The chaotic activity at fleet headquarters surprised Pyle. During his absence, orders had arrived creating Eastern Fleet, tasked with the coordinated handling of RN and Commonwealth shipping in the Indian Ocean, the Java and South China Seas, and Australia. Pyle had also been handed an order assigning him to Naval Intelligence.
Britain had been at war with Japan for nearly two days now, so Pyle had picked up a reasonably detailed picture of what had happened to this point:
Hawaii: The Japanese carrier strike force had apparently retired after the surprise attack on the morning of the 7th. Arizona had gone under and six other battleships had received moderate to heavy, but not mortal, damage. The Japanese strike TF was well to the NW in close proximity to what seemed to be a replenishment TF.
Pacific: The enemy had landed and taken Tarawa.
Philippines: An IJN carrier TF of undetermined strength had participated in a port strike against Manila to open the war and remained active in the vicinity of Naga on the second day. The Americans had lost several subs and assorted merchant and support vessels near and at Manila.
Malaya: The Japanese had landed and taken Kuantan. Paratroops had taken a small base across the peninsula.
Overall: To this point, Allied losses had been relatively light considered the surprise nature of the attack.
Breakwater Defense: Pyle knew that the Allies had implemented Plan Portal. In part this called for establishments of “breakwaters” – bastions that would eventually slow or stop the Japanese advance. The trick had been in identifying places that were sufficient removed from conceivable front lines to give the Allies time to establish the defenses. In the IO, Cocos Island, Port Blair and Diego Garcia had been selected. Pyle believed that Coal Harbor on Victoria Island, Canada, was one of the sites chosen in the Pacific.
Ride to the Guns: In anticipation of a Japanese coup de main against southwestern Borneo or eastern Sumatra, the Royal Navy (along with some American and Dutch combat ships) were on station near Singkawang. A powerful force flagged by the Prince of Wales had been detached late on the 8th to contest any enemy moves south of Miri. Two RAF fighter squadrons had been moved to Singkawang from Singapore to provide CAP in case the Japanese got the field at Kuantan up and running.
Palembang: One Fire Team had the mission of shifting troops from a variety of locations to Palembang. This base would be a top-priority target for Japan, headquarters believed, so it was unlikely the Allies could establish a breakwater defense here, but they’d give it a try. The first big unit – the SSV Indian brigade – had already embarked on ships at Singapore and were enroute.