British ambassador to the United States, Sir Kim Darroch, has told a Washington think tank that despite Britain’s current focus on the Middle East combating Daesh in Iraq and Syria there will be increased focus on the Pacific region as the two new carriers become operational around 2020. Speaking at an event in Washington attended by the Japanese ambassador to the US, Kenchiro Sasae, he said that Britain will play its part in maintaining the security and stability of the Pacific region with emphasis on maintaining the right to freedom of navigation.
Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers on stream in 2020 and as we renew and update our defence forces, they will be seen in the Pacific…And we absolutely share the objective of this U.S. administration, and the next one, to protect freedom of navigation and to keep sea routes and air routes open.
The first step in this renewed British military interest in the region has already been taken. In October this year, four RAF Typhoon FGR.2s from No.II(AC) Squadron landed at Misawa Air Base in Northern Japan to participate in Exercise Guardian North 16 with Japanese and US forces. The aircraft then flew to South Korea for exercises with Korean and US forces.
The Japanese ambassador added that during a meeting held at the Pentagon in Washington at the time of the exercise, the UK agreed to increase the level of naval cooperation with Japan and the US in the South and East China Sea as tensions continue with Beijing regarding territorial claims in the region. The ambassador said that Tokyo welcomed Britain’s increased focus on maintaining regional stability.
Darroch’s words come on the eve of President-elect Donald Trump taking up office in Washington on a pledge to build up the US military. Regarding China whom Trump has been deeply critical of, his advisers have said that the new US President will pursue a policy of “peace through strength” in the Pacific to challenge China’s efforts to assert its own authority over the region.
During a visit to Tokyo beginning on Friday, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon hinted that British combat aircraft may deploy to Japan for training with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces in the near future. Alternatively, Japanese forces would be invited by Britain to deploy to Europe to participate in NATO exercises.
With North Korea having claimed this month to have detonated their first hydrogen bomb, the Defence Secretary was quick to add that any deployment to Japan by RAF jets was not in response to any regional threat but rather would be to help;
…significantly deepen defence cooperation between [the] two nations.
Any deployment to Japan by British combat aircraft will almost certainly face strong political opposition both internationally and at home. Japan and China are currently in a state of cold war regarding the ownership of the Senkaku Islands which is currently under Japanese administration. With the UK and China having recently completed a series of economic agreements, a British military presence in Japan could be seen as London siding with Tokyo which in turn could threaten those agreements.
The deployment and possible intervention in the far east would also face heavy opposition from an increasingly pacifist opposition in the British Labour Party. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has recently completed a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet that has seen a greater number of anti-military factions take prominent positions. Along with the Scottish National Party they would almost certainly criticise any military deployment to the region
In 1950, the Royal Navy carrier HMS Triumph started a tour of the Far East, embarking 800 Naval Air Squadron with Seafire 47s along with 827 Naval Air Squadron equipped with Fairey Fireflys. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, HMS Triumph was diverted to operations to try to stem the North Korean offensive with Seafires and Fireflies flying ground attack and combat air patrols from July until September 1950.
The Seafires and Fireflies of Triumph, in conjunction with aircraft from the American carrier the USS Valley Forge, attacked airfields at Pyongyang and Haeju on 3rd July in the first carrier strikes of the war. The aircraft used rockets and bombs to great effect using tactics perfected just five years earlier in the Second World War. The Seafires, though agile and fast, had an appearance that was a liability when operating with allied forces with it having a remarkable similarity to the Communist Yak-9 fighter. This similarity lead to a near fatal encounter between a Seafire and a USAF B-29 Superfortress crew with a rather nervous gunner who opened fire on the British aircraft. Although the aircraft was downed the pilot escaped unhurt.
In September 1950, HMS Triumph was replaced by HMS Theseus.
(PLEASE NOTE: 1 or 2 images are from another cruise and do not represent the one mentioned above. It seems there was very little time to take a lot of pictures in 1950. I have still included these for reference)