“The Most Dangerous Moment of the War”

Japan’s Attack on the Indian Ocean, 1942

John Clancy

Date Published :
November 2015
Publisher :
Illustration :
16pp photos
Format Available    QuantityPrice
ISBN : 9781612003344
Pages : 208
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
In stock
ISBN : 9781612005331
Pages : 208
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
In stock


In early April 1942, a little-known episode of World War II took place, said by Sir Winston Churchill to be "the most dangerous moment of the war,” when the Japanese made their only major offensive westwards into the Indian Ocean. Historian Sir Arthur Bryant said, "A Japanese naval victory in April 1942 would have given Japan total control of the Indian Ocean, isolated the Middle East and brought down the Churchill government.”

War in the Far East had erupted with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, followed in succession by Japanese drives on the Philippines, Indochina, the Java Sea and Singapore. Seemingly unstoppable, the Japanese now had a vast new empire, and having crippled the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, turned their sights on the British Eastern Fleet based at Ceylon. Occupation of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) would not only provide the Japanese a springboard into India but control of the essential convoy routes to Europe and the Western Desert. And aside from the British Eastern Fleet, the Indian Ocean lay undefended.

So far the Japanese had suffered no significant losses and the question on everyone's lips was how soon the enemy would appear off India. In April 1942 a Japanese fleet led by six aircraft carriers, four battleships and 30 other ships sailed into the Bay of Bengal. After the war Churchill said that potential disaster was averted by the actions of one pilot, Squadron Leader L.J. Birchall, who in his Catalina flying boat spotted the Japanese warships massing some 350 miles from Ceylon. He was shot down by a Japanese Zero but not before sending a brief radio message back to his base. This gave the island's defense forces time to prepare.

In the ferocious battles that followed, the British lost a carrier, two heavy cruisers and many other ships; however, the Japanese eventually turned back, never to sail against India again. John Clancy, whose father survived the sinking of HMS Cornwall during the battle, tells the story of this dramatic but little known campaign in which a major Allied catastrophe was only narrowly averted.

About The Author

John Clancy is an experienced author of over fifteen local history books and holds an MA in archaeology and heritage from the University of Leicester. His father was a survivor of the sinking of HMS Cornwall, and later in life he met another survivor who provided many missing links in the story.



1 The Background to the Conflict
2 The Allied Response
3 Political Divisions as Ceylon Prepares
4 The Events of Easter 1942
5 The Loss of the Cornwall, the Dorsetshire and Other Ships
6 Survivors' Stories
7 Nagumo Follows up with Trincomalee and More Ships are Sunk
8 The Sequel and its Aftermath
9 Victory or Defeat?

A Poem by Emlyn Parry, a former seaman of HMS Dorsetshire

Further Reading


‘John Clancy masterfully combines the strategic overview, the tactical decision making and many personal experiences to bring this episode of the war to life.'

- WW2 Today, November 2015

"The kind of story you'd find in illustrated form inone of the 1960s boys' comics such as Warlord, or Commando. Absolutely enthralling."

- Books Monthly UK, December 2015

"John is a professional author and it certainly shows in the book as it covers the whole period from the background to the war in the Far East up to the sinkings and beyond. I found the whole book fascinating as it gave a much wider view of the actions in 1942. I thoroughly recommend it to all those interested in the events of April 1942. "

- The HMS Dorsetshire Association, March 2016

"...provided ample detail explaining the losses and issues associated with the Indian Ocean Campaign for both sides. Included are several personal accounts, interviews and photographs. Unlike many other narratives of this type, he did not dwell on making excuses for the mistakes made by the fleet command nor beat them down for their decisions. He put it out there for the reader to decide. He also interjected the political side as well as Sir Winston Churchill's concerns throughout the scenario. The book is fairly short and worth reading. -

- Naval Historical Foundation, April 2016

"The British facilities in Ceylon were hit hard in April 1942 by aircraft from five Japanese carriers, which sank two cruisers, an aircraft carrier, two destroyers, a corvette and 24 merchant ships. In "The Most Dangerous Moment of the War,” the author gives a well-detailed account of the raid, which badly stung the Royal Navy but which the Japanese failed to exploit to a strategic advantage."

- SeaPower, April 2016

"...well researched and full of details...details that go far in completing the story of why British leaders acted as they did at the time. The motivations of those leaders are explained without blame or excuse, presenting a balanced view of men acting under the stress of war during a critical time.

- WWII History, September 2016

"Excellent little book…an important gap in naval history has thus been covered and covered very well."

- Baird Maritime

"I found this book to be a very good read and with all the details of the military actions of April 1942 it was very hard to put down. It is an excellent description of the Japanese raid into the Indian Ocean in 1942 and is recommended to anyone wanting to know more about this operation.”

- Model Builder Internationale

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