Warship Wednesday Mar. 29, 2017: The first into Kure and the smasher of I-boats
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017: The first into Kure
Here we see the Black Swan-class sloop, His Majesty’s Indian Ship Sutlej (U95), off the coast of Burma while on a coastal patrol in March 1942 just weeks after the Japanese entered WWII. She is as seen from the boarding whaler as the sloop goes alongside a native Sampan for a closer look.
With its roots hailing back to the East India Company in 1612, the modern Indian Navy was formed in 1830 under the aegis of the Royal Navy and, after over a century of name changes and rebranding became the Royal Indian Navy in 1934. Based in Bombay, this impressive-sounding force only had a handful of ships by the time the Commonwealth found itself in World War II.
The war sparked a huge expansion of the RIN, with a pair of Black Swans ordered in 1939 followed by four more of the same types in subsequent years. The Swans were an improvement of the Bittern-class sloop and were hardy 1,250-ton ships of 299 feet overall and, armed with half-dozen high angle 4-inch guns and some AAA pieces, also carried more than enough depth charges to scratch the paint on German U-boats and Japanese I-boats. They weren’t very fast (19 knots) but had long legs (7,000nm@12kts).
The hero of our tale, Sutej, is named after one of the major rivers that flow through India and carries the name of a previous 50-gun Ship of the Royal Navy as well as a Cressy-class armored cruiser who served in the Great War.
She and sistership Jumna were laid down at William Denny and Brothers Limited, Dunbarton, Scotland in early 1940. Sutlej was commissioned on 23 April 1941 and rushed into combat with her Indian crew under the command of Capt. J. E. N. Coope, R.I.N.
By July 1941 she was deployed in the Irish Sea for convoy defense and between May of that year when she joined HX 127 and August 1944, she escorted no less than 50 convoys in virtually all theaters of the conflict.
But convoy work was almost a sideshow for Sutej, who transited to the Pacific on the entry of Japan into the war, escorting some of the last troops and supplies into Singapore in January 1942. She then worked the coastal patrol off Burma, inspecting local traffic.
She then shepherded merchantmen from Bombay to the Persian Gulf, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. This brought her to Operation “Husky” the invasion of Sicily. There, alongside her Indian sister Swan Jumna, she covered the Acid North beaches.
“The Sutlej was senior officer of A/S patrol and as such had a roving commission as general ‘Whipper in’ to the patrol ships and managed to make quick dashes inshore to have a ‘decco’ at the landings at close quarters. The sight was amazing. Landing Craft of all descriptions pouring their loads ashore with very little congestion on the beaches as the troops and vehicles very rapidly pushed inland to capture their objectives.
“By 1100, five hours after initial assault, Admiral Troubridge was able to signal to the Supreme Naval Commander—Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham ‘Landings at Acid Beaches successfully carried out, bridgehead secured.’ Landings on the southern and western coasts of Sicily were also successfully accomplished.
In late 1943 Sutlej was tasked with rushing a detachment of the Queen’s Own Royal West Kents from Haifa– trucked across Iraq by lorry– to beaches in the Aegean where they tried to shore up the campaign there. The year 1944 saw her again in the Indian Ocean, providing convoy defense in the Bay of Bengal between Chittagong and Calcutta. There, she took part in the search for German submarine U-181, a Type IXD2 U-boat hunting in the Indian Ocean.
These days were quiet in this almost forgotten corner of the war. War photographer Cecil Beaton visited the ship during this period.
In April 1945, Sutlej was relieved of her vital but monotonous convoy work and attached to Operation Dracula– the amphibious assault on Rangoon. Joining the sloop HMIS Cauver, she sailed from Akyab for Rangoon, merging with the massive Allied Dracula force on the way. During the operation, the two sloops stood at the mouth of the Rangoon river ready to bombard shore positions if required.
After the capture of Rangoon, the army in the south of Burma was reinforced from India and Sutlej, along with the fellow H.M.I. Ships Cauvery, Narbada, Godavari, Kistna, and Hindustan were assigned “anti-escape” patrols along with the remote islands in the Mergui Archipelago, Forrest Strait, and the Moscos and Bentinck Group, to prevent Japanese forces bottled up there from being evacuated.
With a long war behind her and a lengthy campaign to take the Japanese Home Islands believed to be ahead, Sutlej was in refit at Bombay on VJ Day.
Then came the endgame.
Sutlej was given the honor of being the first Allied ship to reach the former Japanese naval bastion at Kure after negotiating the shallows, wrecks, minefields, and obstacles.
Among the tasks given by Sutlej was that of “smasher” duty– coupled with the Royal Australian Navy destroyer HMAS Quiberon she sank several captured Japanese warships and submarines in the Inland Sea in May 1946 via naval gunfire as part of Operation Bottom. One batch of 17 submarines was sunk in 800 feet of water on the same day and included I-153, 154, 155, Ro-59, 62, 63, and Ha-205.
Scenes aboard the Indian sloop HMIS Sutlej show the views of preparations before the sinking of the Japanese submarine I-155, built-in Kure, 1929, and which apparently was not used during the war. The following scenes show the effect of 4″ shells on the sub and 20mm Oerlikon shells. After 238 rounds of 4″ shells and 4 depth charges, and after 4 hours of firing and closing the range from 4,000 yards to 200 yards, the sub was sunk:
Her sailors were courteous in victory. According to one report:
Many sailors/officers from other ships were seen removing Emperor Hirohito’s portraits, fancy-looking barometers, decorated chinaware, and even zinc bars from a battleship and a submarine. Although the act entailed no criminal offense, none of the Indian sailors or officers brought any Japanese trophies aboard the Indian ship, Sutlej, out of regard for the Indian people’s sensitivity on this subject.
By the end of the war, the RIN had swollen from eight ships and 3,500 personnel of all ranks to over 100 vessels and 30,000 men (as well as the newly established RIN WRENs corps of female sailors) commanded by Vice Adm. Sir Geoffrey Miles, K.C.B. This was soon to change as ships were scrapped and sailors demobilized.
With funds tight and the Empire close to insolvency, the RIN spent much of its postwar period swaying at anchor. By 1947, with India’s and Pakistan’s independence, the Navy was split by each side with Sutlej going to the new Indian Navy along with her Black Swan-class sisters Jumna, Cauvery, and Kistna while three others; Narbada, Godavari, and Hindustan went to Pakistan.
Redesignated Indian Naval Ship (INS) Sutlej was reclassified as a frigate and was one of just a handful of oceangoing warships operated by the fleet of the new republic, forming the 12th Frigate Squadron with her sisters.
In 1955, Sutlej was disarmed and converted to a survey ship.
By the late 1970s, the Indian Swans were showing their age. INS Kaveri was the first decommissioned, in 1977, followed by our hero in 1978, INS Jumna in 1980, and INS Krisna in 1981.
Sutlej, however, was apparently scrapped last, going to the breakers in 1983.
A few pieces of her were saved and are in circulation.
Only one of the 37 Black Swans, HMS Mermaid (U30)/FGS Scharnhorst, lasted longer than Sutlej did, going to the scrappers in 1990 after a decade as a damage control training hulk.
Our Indian navy’s ship name was handed down to the new survey ship INS Sutlej (J17), commissioned in 1993.
Displacement: 1,250 tons
Length: 299 ft 6 in (91.29 m)
Beam: 37 ft 6 in (11.43 m)
Draught: 11 ft (3.4 m)
Geared turbines, 2 shafts:
3,600 hp (2,700 kW)
Speed: 19 knots (35 km/h)
Range: 7,500 nmi (13,900 km) at 12 kn (22 km/h)
6 × QF 4 in (102 mm) Mk XVI AA guns (3 × 2)
4 × 2-pounder AA pom-pom
4 × 0.5-inch (12.7 mm) AA machine guns, later augmented in 1945 by 20mm guns
40 depth charges
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