Force B

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Force B
Ensign of the Royal Navy animated.gif
CountryFlag United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.gif United Kingdom
AllegianceBritish Empire
BranchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
EngagementsBattle of the Mediterranean
Battle of Calabria
Operation MB8
Battle of Cape Matapan
Operation Judgement
First Battle of Sirte
Asiatic-Pacific Theater
Indian Ocean raid
Bernard Rawlings
Algernon Willis
Andrew Cunningham
Henry Pridham-Wippell

Force B was the name of several British Royal Navy task forces during the Second World War.


Operations in the Mediterranean

Force B was first formed by the Mediterranean Fleet in July 1940. Comprising the battleship HMS Warspite and five destroyers, it saw action at the Battle of Calabria under the command of Vice Admiral Andrew Cunningham.

In November 1940 it was involved in Operation MB8, a multi-faceted operation involving several forces with different but co-ordinated aims. During this period Force B comprised the cruisers HMS Ajax and HMAS Sydney and delivered reinforcements to Crete. The force sailed on 4 November with convoy AN 6 en route to Greece, departing that evening to Crete, then heading north to join Force C the cruiser HMS Orion at Pireaus. From there the combined force under the command of Vice-Admiral Henry Pridham-Wippell moved east into the Straits of Otranto to divert the Italian Fleet whilst the balance of the British forces attacked the port of Taranto in Operation Judgement. Whilst in the straits, the cruisers intercepted an Italian convoy of four ships and destroyed three.[1]

In March 1941, again under Pridham-Whippel, HMS Ajax and the cruisers HMS Orion, HMS Gloucester and HMAS Perth formed Force B in an operation to bring the Italian fleet to battle, resulting in the Battle of Cape Matapan.[2]

In June Force B was re-formed to assist Allied forces in the Syria–Lebanon Campaign with HMS Ajax, HMS Phoebe and four destroyers. During this period ships of the force were engaged by Vichy submarine Caiman, which was damaged in a two-hour hunt, and the destroyers Guepard and Valmy, which left the destroyer Janus badly damaged.[3]

In November Force B (comprising HMS Ajax, HMS Neptune and two destroyers, HMS Kandahar and HMS Jaguar and under the command of Rear-Admiral H. Bernard H. Rawlings was moved to Malta to reinforce the ships of Force K already there and to carry out offensive sweeps for Axis supply ships en route to Libya. On 19 December, after taking part in conveying a supply ship into Malta in Operation MD 8 which had led to the First Battle of Sirte, Force B was deployed to find the Italian convoy encountered in that engagement but fell foul of a minefield off Tripoli, resulting in the loss of Neptune and Kandahar and damage to two other ships. After this, forces B and K were withdrawn from Malta.[4]

Operations in the Indian Ocean

With the outbreak of war in the Pacific and the advance of the Japanese on Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, British naval forces in the Far east were forced to retreat, first to Java, then to Trincomalee, in Ceylon. In March 1942 Admiral James Fownes Somerville took command of a force of 29 warships, many approaching obsolescence. To remedy this deficiency he divided his ships into fast and slow divisions, Force A and Force B respectively.[5] This Force B comprised four WWI vintage Revenge class battleships, the light carrier HMS Hermes, the cruisers HMS Caledon and HMS Dragon and destroyers HMS Decoy, HMS Fortune, HMS Griffin and HMS Scout. These were joined by Dutch cruiser HNLMS Jacob van Heemskerck and destroyer HNLMS Isaac Sweers, and RAN destroyers HMAS Norman and HMAS Vampire.[6] This force came under the command of Rear Admiral Algernon Usborne Willis.

This force came under attack during the Japanese Indian Ocean raid and on 9 April Hermes and Vampire were sunk by aircraft from the |Japanese carrier strike force Kido Butai. After this Force B was withdrawn to the naval base at Kilindini, in British East Africa, where it was remained until the RN could recoup its position in the theatre. Force B's only major action, apart from escort duty was to support Operation Ironclad, the invasion of Vichy-held Madagascar, in May 1942, during which HMS Ramillies was attacked and damaged by Japanese midget submarines in Diego Suarez harbour.[7]

In Command

Flag Officer Commanding, Force B

Flag Officer Commanding, Force B
Rank Flag Name Term Notes/Ref
1 Vice-Admiral Vice Admiral command Flag RN from 1864.png Sir Andrew Brownes Cunningham July, 1940
2 Vice-Admiral Vice Admiral command Flag RN from 1864.png Sir Henry Pridham-Wippell November 1940
3 Vice-Admiral Vice Admiral command Flag RN from 1864.png Sir Henry Pridham-Wippell March 1941
4 Rear-Admiral Rear Admiral command Flag RN from 1864.png H. Bernard H. Rawlings November - December, 1940
5 Rear-Admiral Rear Admiral command Flag RN from 1864.png Algernon Usborne Willis March - April 1942


  1. Roskill, Stephen. (1954). p.301.
  2. Roskill, Stephen. (1954). p.428.
  3. Roskill, Stephen. (1954). pp.516-517.
  4. Roskill, Stephen. (1954). p.535.
  5. Roskill, Stephen. (1956). p.25.
  6. Eastern Fleet order of battle at
  7. Roskill, Stephen. (1956). pp.191-192.