The naval campaigns of World War II illustrate the
importance of viewing the Indian Ocean as a coherent theater,
rather than a series of separate sub-regions.
Although seen as a tertiary theater behind the Pacific and Europe,
the Indian Ocean nevertheless contained numerous naval engagements,
which had a significant impact on the war as a whole. While the Japanese campaigns in Burma,
Ceylon, and Singapore throughout 1941 and 1942 represent a major incursion into
the Indian Ocean, there were also movements by the Italians in the Red Sea, and
a sustained attack on Allied shipping by the Germans (and later the Japanese)
around Horn of Africa. Following the
route of the British fleet around Ceylon
in 1942, the Japanese were given almost free-reign throughout the majority of the
Ocean, seriously raising the possibility of cutting British supply routes
through the Suez. The fact that they did not ultimately pursue
this course can be seen as a significant missed opportunity that allowed the
British to stay in the war.