The Anniversary of The Channel Dash - 1942 - and the wider RN Fleet Air Arm during the Second World War

Yokel

LE
Did I mention my view that the effectiveness of shipborne Swordfish on anti U boat operations in the Atlantic should be measured not by the kills but by the lack of merchantmen sunk?

Here is a rough draft of a Master of Philosophy degree from 2004 - written by a genuine RN veteran who flew in the Atlantic.

THE EFFECTIVENESS OF MERCHANT AIRCRAFT CARRIERS

PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES

John Mably died on 17th Febmary, 2002, just after he had produced the first almost complete rough draft thesis. It had always been John Mably's ambition to research in depth the many factors surrounding his wartime experience of flying Swordfish aircraft from MAC ships.

APPROACH TO THE STUDY

John Mably served as a Navigator/Observer on Swordfish aircraft flying off MAC ships following their introduction into the Battle of the Atlantic. The thesis builds upon his personal experiences and understanding of the Convoy System to create uniquely intimate assessments, analyses and evaluations, specifically of the evolution of the MAC ship as a tactical weapon, and in general of a little-known, historically- marginalised, yet vital chapter in British naval history.

From the Overall Effectiveness section of Conclusions

In fact, their real effectiveness was in preventing U-boats from approaching to within torpedo range of a convoy. The great majority of MAC ships sorties were totally uneventful which was monotonous and frustrating to aircrew. However, this did not mean that the flights achieved nothing. The very presence of supporting aircraft lifted the morale of all in a convoy. Of greater importance if there were U-boats preparing for attack they would be forced out of range. A U-boat in mid-Atlantic spent much time on the surface where the speed was greater but if forced to dive because of the approach of an aircraft her speed was drastically reduced and prevented her from chasing a convoy and making an attack. A U-boat could normally detect aircraft before herself being detected. So no patrol or search need ever have been fruitless.

It should be obvious that this also applied to Swordfish flying from escort carriers. The work gives a good description of the Swordfish and its capabilities, and the roles of the three crew.
 
one of the curious British requirements for its US built escort carriers, was the deletion in a shipyard of many creature comforts, wasting months getting them into service.



A small example - US warships were all fitted with big plumbed in industrial washing machines, When supplied to the RN, these were duly ripped out. Jack was expected to dhobi in a bucket with a bar of soap. Other examples include ripping out ice cream making machines, hugely popular with the fortunate few who actually got them, bunks, hammocks lads! Bathtubs, lots of electric fans, washstands with hot water plumed into cabins.

I wonder if rather than the pointless misery making this seems - it isnt i fact justified as the UK wouldnt have the infrastructure to support these and the effort of supporting a dozen or so ships scatterred about would be disproportionate.


Far better to keep the UK fleet at 1 common standard in those circumstances even if on an individual ship basis it seems a retrogade step.

As for the ice cream machines - could the UK a nation with rationing in place have run them - would there be access to the ingredients.


Then of course theres the UK Specific requirements - see fuel stowage mentioned a few posts above - these modifications may have necessitated the removal of some of this equipment if only to gain access - in which
case not reffiting it would be quicker.


Would be interesting to know the rationale -
 

PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
Did I mention my view that the effectiveness of shipborne Swordfish on anti U boat operations in the Atlantic should be measured not by the kills but by the lack of merchantmen sunk?

Here is a rough draft of a Master of Philosophy degree from 2004 - written by a genuine RN veteran who flew in the Atlantic.

THE EFFECTIVENESS OF MERCHANT AIRCRAFT CARRIERS

PERSONAL CIRCUMSTANCES

John Mably died on 17th Febmary, 2002, just after he had produced the first almost complete rough draft thesis. It had always been John Mably's ambition to research in depth the many factors surrounding his wartime experience of flying Swordfish aircraft from MAC ships.

APPROACH TO THE STUDY

John Mably served as a Navigator/Observer on Swordfish aircraft flying off MAC ships following their introduction into the Battle of the Atlantic. The thesis builds upon his personal experiences and understanding of the Convoy System to create uniquely intimate assessments, analyses and evaluations, specifically of the evolution of the MAC ship as a tactical weapon, and in general of a little-known, historically- marginalised, yet vital chapter in British naval history.

From the Overall Effectiveness section of Conclusions

In fact, their real effectiveness was in preventing U-boats from approaching to within torpedo range of a convoy. The great majority of MAC ships sorties were totally uneventful which was monotonous and frustrating to aircrew. However, this did not mean that the flights achieved nothing. The very presence of supporting aircraft lifted the morale of all in a convoy. Of greater importance if there were U-boats preparing for attack they would be forced out of range. A U-boat in mid-Atlantic spent much time on the surface where the speed was greater but if forced to dive because of the approach of an aircraft her speed was drastically reduced and prevented her from chasing a convoy and making an attack. A U-boat could normally detect aircraft before herself being detected. So no patrol or search need ever have been fruitless.

It should be obvious that this also applied to Swordfish flying from escort carriers. The work gives a good description of the Swordfish and its capabilities, and the roles of the three crew.

very good, except that magnum opus ignores the reality of the ground at the time.

By early 1943, the Allies had both enough VLR aircraft and escorts to actively go after the U Boats, not sit back and defend. No longer were convoys routed to avoid U Boat packs, action was sought, with extra VLR aircraft and independent Hunter-Killer groups available to actively hunt down to destruction U Boats attempting to attack a convoy. The days of Wolf Packs assembling at leisure and trailing convoys were over.
As noted in primary sources, their was disquiet in some of the Admiraly at the switch to using convoys as bait and allowing the escorts to range freely, rather than mount a close escort, but the figures spoke for themselves as the U Boats were slaughtered, and shipping losses dropped exponentially.

As the champions for independent specialist Hunter Killer groups like Captain Walker noted, You don’t defeat the enemy by deterring or chasing him off, You defeat him by hunting him down and killing him.

And the MAC ships?
They entered service after the back of the U Boat arm had been broken irreparably in May 1943. Not only did they lose 25% of their submarines in a month, an entire generation of combat experienced Officers were wiped out, a loss the Germans were never enable to make good.
Afterwards, they were having to give commands to newly minted green Officers, not veterans with a number of patrols under their belt. After the disaster of 1943, the U Boat arm was never more than a nuisance, with many boats, their first patrol being their last.
 

Yokel

LE
very good, except that magnum opus ignores the reality of the ground at the time.

By early 1943, the Allies had both enough VLR aircraft and escorts to actively go after the U Boats, not sit back and defend. No longer were convoys routed to avoid U Boat packs, action was sought, with extra VLR aircraft and independent Hunter-Killer groups available to actively hunt down to destruction U Boats attempting to attack a convoy. The days of Wolf Packs assembling at leisure and trailing convoys were over.
As noted in primary sources, their was disquiet in some of the Admiraly at the switch to using convoys as bait and allowing the escorts to range freely, rather than mount a close escort, but the figures spoke for themselves as the U Boats were slaughtered, and shipping losses dropped exponentially.

As the champions for independent specialist Hunter Killer groups like Captain Walker noted, You don’t defeat the enemy by deterring or chasing him off, You defeat him by hunting him down and killing him.

And the MAC ships?
They entered service after the back of the U Boat arm had been broken irreparably in May 1943. Not only did they lose 25% of their submarines in a month, an entire generation of combat experienced Officers were wiped out, a loss the Germans were never enable to make good.
Afterwards, they were having to give commands to newly minted green Officers, not veterans with a number of patrols under their belt. After the disaster of 1943, the U Boat arm was never more than a nuisance, with many boats, their first patrol being their last.

The convoys continued to be escorted throughout the war - but there were enough escorts to provide Support Groups, independent of individual convoys, that could go to the aid of a convoy under attack.

The Battle That Had To be Won - USNI

Ultimately, the recipe for defending a convoy against a Wolf Pack, and for sinking U-boats in the process, was worked out by the British in November and December 1941 west of Gibraltar, in the so-called Azores air gap. There, they combined modern 10-cm radar; large, well-trained and well-lead escort groups, and carrier-based and very long range (VLR) airpower to exact a toll on German submarines. Before these methods and the newly developed shipborne Huff/Duff sets could be applied in the North Atlantic, however, Germany declared war on the United States and the assault on shipping in the western hemisphere began.

That would be the area that HMS Audacity operated in? Winkle Brown describes the action in some detail.

At the end of March [1943], however, everything changed. The Allies agreed to return operation control of the North Atlantic convoys east of 47 degrees to the British, giving a single operational authority effective control over battles in the mid-ocean starting on 30 April. They also agreed to reinforce the North Atlantic with more VLR aircraft and to commit long-awaited [American] escort carriers to eliminate the air gap. Support groups were established to provide powerful and timely reinforcement of the surface escorts, and Allied cryptanalysts once again broke the German operational codes. The latter restored effective routing. It also revealed that morale in the U-boat fleet was poor and ripe for crushing. Finally—and equally important—the weather moderated. As winter storms abated, Allied radar- and Huff/Duff-directed sweeps by destroyers were more successful. As all of these elements came together, British routing authorities began to choose their battles, steering some convoys wide of trouble while heavily reinforcing others and driving them deliberately at waiting U-boats. It was finally time to kill the Wolf Packs.
 
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PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs

‘.......hate to break this to you, but we weren’t trying to stop U Boat attacks on the convoys, the convoys were used as the bait to draw the U boats to destruction....’


That is one of the stupidest statements I have ever heard.

and then you cite a source that contradicts you.

all of these elements came together, British routing authorities began to choose their battles, steering some convoys wide of trouble while heavily reinforcing others and driving them deliberately at waiting U-boats. It was finally time to kill the Wolf Packs.

it wasnt the Swordfish what won it, the Germans lost as many U Boats to collisions, the big killer in May 1943 was Very Long Range Aircraft, accounting for half the U Boat losses.
 
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I wonder if rather than the pointless misery making this seems - it isnt i fact justified as the UK wouldnt have the infrastructure to support these and the effort of supporting a dozen or so ships scatterred about would be disproportionate.


Far better to keep the UK fleet at 1 common standard in those circumstances even if on an individual ship basis it seems a retrogade step.

As for the ice cream machines - could the UK a nation with rationing in place have run them - would there be access to the ingredients.


Then of course theres the UK Specific requirements - see fuel stowage mentioned a few posts above - these modifications may have necessitated the removal of some of this equipment if only to gain access - in which
case not reffiting it would be quicker.


Would be interesting to know the rationale -
with regard to the ice cream making machines, their use tended to last as long as they had the means to make ice cream and refrigeration was spared for higher priority rations for the crew. They were able to replenish the ingredients easily when they got to American ports. I did read of one account where the crew took the machine apart and hid it, so that when the dockyard people came aboard to strip it out, they just told them that the machine was never fitted. The ships were built on contract and the Ministry didnt want to pay for them so the crews went without, until their ingenuity won out.
 

PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
I wonder if rather than the pointless misery making this seems - it isnt i fact justified as the UK wouldnt have the infrastructure to support these and the effort of supporting a dozen or so ships scatterred about would be disproportionate.


Far better to keep the UK fleet at 1 common standard in those circumstances even if on an individual ship basis it seems a retrogade step.

As for the ice cream machines - could the UK a nation with rationing in place have run them - would there be access to the ingredients.


Then of course theres the UK Specific requirements - see fuel stowage mentioned a few posts above - these modifications may have necessitated the removal of some of this equipment if only to gain access - in which
case not reffiting it would be quicker.


Would be interesting to know the rationale -


with regard to the ice cream making machines, their use tended to last as long as they had the means to make ice cream and refrigeration was spared for higher priority rations for the crew. They were able to replenish the ingredients easily when they got to American ports. I did read of one account where the crew took the machine apart and hid it, so that when the dockyard people came aboard to strip it out, they just told them that the machine was never fitted. The ships were built on contract and the Ministry didnt want to pay for them so the crews went without, until their ingenuity won out.

it was a wonderful example of Chalmondly-Warner Penny smart, pound foolish thinking.
it will have cost more to put the Lend Lease ships assorted into Canadian/U.K. dockyards to rip out the luxuries than leave them in. It’s not as if they were actually paying for the Ice Cream machines up front. Payment was only due 12 weeks after the end of hostilities if we kept them.


as regards ice cream supplies?
The Quartermaster Corp shipped 135 million pounds of ice cream mix to Allied bases worldwide in 1943!
 
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Yokel

LE
Photex

You claimed that we gave up on escorting convoys. Keeping slow and poorly defended convoys away from wolfpacks, whilst allowing ones with a strong escort to engage them, was different.

As for escort carriers - it may have been 1943 before American ones joined the battle, but British ones were in action from late 1941. Apart from finding off Condors they fought the U boats. The number of sinking may have been low, but they frustrated wolfpack operations. On more one occasion they detected and attacked a U boat, and the contact was pursued by one of the escorts which conducted follow on attacks.
 

PhotEx

On ROPS
On ROPs
Photex

You claimed that we gave up on escorting convoys. Keeping slow and poorly defended convoys away from wolfpacks, whilst allowing ones with a strong escort to engage them, was different.

As for escort carriers - it may have been 1943 before American ones joined the battle, but British ones were in action from late 1941. Apart from finding off Condors they fought the U boats. The number of sinking may have been low, but they frustrated wolfpack operations. On more one occasion they detected and attacked a U boat, and the contact was pursued by one of the escorts which conducted follow on attacks.

no, we didn’t route the poorly defended convoys around the U Boats, Ultra was far too precious to protect a 30 year old rust bucket carrying iron ore.

your handful of escort carriers were a drop in the ocean, literally. Far more useful and far more impactful was the closing of the mid Atlantic gap by VLR aircraft, and patrol and strike aicraft interdicting the U Boat transit routes.
So serious and effective were the attacks on U Boats in Biscay, KG40 with JU88 fighters was sent there to attempt to try and fight off the Allied aircraft hunting U Boats by day and night.


March to August 1943 saw the climax of the Biscay campaign. In the former month, the Leigh Light Wellingtons, many of which had now been fitted with improved radar, had considerable success. A typical attack was that made by Flying Officer W. Lewis12 as captain of one of these aircraft, on the night of 24-25 March. His crew of five included four other New Zealanders. They were nearing the end of the southward leg of their patrol when a radar contact indicated a possible target ten miles to starboard. Lewis immediately turned and homed on the contact, losing height at the same time. When the radar operator called the range as just under one mile, the Leigh Light was switched on. It lit up a fully-surfaced U-boat dead ahead. Six depth-charges were dropped near the vessel, which appeared to heel over on its side, but nothing further was seen. However, although it was disappointing for the crews of the Leigh Light aircraft not to be able to see the results of their attacks, their efforts were soon rewarded. Towards the end of April, U-boats began to appear on the surface by day rather than face the sudden and unexpected attacks in darkness. They also began to carry increased armament to drive off aircraft that surprised them, or at least to upset the accuracy of the attacks. Although some aircraft were shot down and others damaged,* the density of the patrols was now such that an increasing toll was taken of the enemy. The duels which occurred gave the air gunners many opportunities to prove their skill. By directing a hail of fire at the gun positions on the conning tower as the aircraft went in to attack, they enabled their captains to aim the depth-charges with a minimum of interference. On one occasion a Sunderland sighted a U-boat, which opened fire and zig-zagged as the aircraft approached. The front gunner, Flight Sergeant R. C. Armstrong,13 directed his fire with such good effect that several of the enemy gunners were seen to crumple. The flak slackened and his captain was able to take accurate aim. The U-boat shuddered violently as the depth-charges exploded and soon afterwards it sank, leaving a large patch of oil on the sea in which about thirty of the crew were seen.


 
The other big difference between RN and USN carriers was that RN carriers had armoured steel flight decks unlike the early USN ones were wooden. Workd at War series regarding Japanese kamikazi attacks, destroyed USN carriers but RN ones the comment was 'sweepers man your brooms' and a bit of quick setting concrete.
I have thought about starting a thread on that subject - AIUI the US idea was to have CAP giving cover at a distance so that the need for armoured decks would be minimised - as the enemy would struggle to get through - whereas the RN fully expected to get hit.
 
I have thought about starting a thread on that subject - AIUI the US idea was to have CAP giving cover at a distance so that the need for armoured decks would be minimised - as the enemy would struggle to get through - whereas the RN fully expected to get hit.
The wooden deck was adopted by the USN based on Naval College war games that revealed the vulnerability of carriers. Wooden decks were adopted due to ease of repair, which could be performed at mobile repair ships in temporary bases as the fleet moved across the Pacific. They didn’t focus on CAPs until the late 1930s, and the Essex class was enlarged specifically to carry an additional fighter squadron.

Apparently the near war with Italy in 1934 is what prompted the RN to adopt armored decks once they realized that they could never neutralize the land based aircraft.
 
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Yokel

LE
Selected snippets from the operational history of RN escort carriers:

HMS ACTIVITY

For the round trip convoys JW/RA58 to Murmansk, Northern Russia, ACTIVITY was paired with the US built escort carrier HMS TRACKER, ACTIVITY’s 819 squadron now operated 3 Swordfish and 7 Wildcats and TRACKER’s 846 squadron operated 12 Avengers and 7 Wildcats.

The outbound convoy JW58 departed from Loch Ewe, Western Scotland on March 26th 1944 and ACTIVITY and TRACKER joined on the 29th. The enemy was engaged on the 30th when Wildcats from ACTIVITY, FN122 (‘P’) flown by Lt J.G. Large, and FN135 (‘Q’), flown by Sub-Lt R.K.L. Yeo RNVR, intercepted and shot down a Ju88 at position 67°0'N 3°9'W. The next day 819s Wildcats destroyed two more enemy aircraft, both were long range reconnaissance Fw200s; JV522 (‘R’) and JV391 ('S') shot one down at 69°29' N 0°27' W and a second later that day at position 70°20'N 1°30'W. A Bv138 seaplane was also shot down on the evening of the 31st by Wildcats from both carriers.

The month of April started with the loss of one of 819s Wildcats, FN122 ('P') suffered an engine failure on take off and ditched, the pilot Sub Lt. WG Bowles RNZNVR was recovered OK. Wildcats FN136 ('T') 819 squadron and JV512 of 846 squadron shot down a Bv138 at 72°37'N 9°50'W.

The first U-Boat detected by a Swordfish of 819 was U-288, sighted on the surface on April 3rd, Lt. S Brilliant and his crew, Sub Lt. H Chadwick and P.O. J Perry, flying in LS373 (‘C’) came under heavy anti aircraft fire and called for assistance. They were joined on the scene by Avenger FN869 ('4G') and Wildcat JV512 from TRACKER’s 846 squadron and combined depth charge and rocket attacks were carried out. Despite evasive manoeuvres U-288 was sunk in position 73°44'N 13°04'E in the Barents Sea southeast of Bear Island. Lt. S Brilliant, Sub Lt. H Chadwick were both awarded the DSC, while P.O. J Perry was awarded the DSM for this action.

Aircraft from ACTIVITY also assisted in sinking U-355 and damaging U-362, U-673 & U-990
. The destruction of the enemy reconnaissance aircraft made it impossible for the submarines to receive accurate position information about the convoy’s whereabouts and scuppered a carefully laid trap. Accompanying the outbound convoy of 37 merchant vessels was the American warship USS MILWAUKEE that was to be handed over to the Russian Navy under Lend-lease agreements on arrival at Murmansk. All vessels reached Murmansk without loss on April 4th. ACTIVITY and TRACKER detached from the convoy and anchored in Kola Inlet.


HMS AMEER

In the New Year [1945] AMEER began operating in her role of assault carrier; she re-embarked 804 squadron RNAS Trincomalee and sailed to Chittagong to join Force 61 with the Cruisers NEWCASTLE, PHOEBE and NIGERIA. Destroyers RAIDER, RAPID and PATHFINDER. This was a bombardment force in support of landings by 3rd Commando Brigade on Akyab Peninsula, Burma, operation 'LIGHTNING'. Hellcats from AMEER were to provide Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the force and spot 'fall of shot' for the bombardment, the bombardment force; however due to reports that the Japanese had withdrawn for the target area on December 31st NEWCASTLE, NIGERIA, KENYA, RAPID, RAIDER, and PATHFINDER returned to Trincomalee arriving on 5th January, while PHOEBE remained on the coast as a Fighter Direction Ship. AMEER remained on station to support the main force, TF64, providing CAP and air support for the landings which commenced on January 3rd, this was a swift operation, the island was fully occupied by the end of the following day.

On returning to Trincomalee AMEER was assigned to the same role in support of operation 'MATADOR', the amphibious landings on Ramree Island. The bombardment force for this operation comprised of the battleship QUEEN ELIZABETH, escort carrier AMEER and destroyers NORMAN, PATHFINDER and RAIDER. The order to put to sea came on January 18th and AMEER, in company with RAIDER sailed that afternoon, QUEEN ELIZABETH, NORMAN and PATHFINDER sailing later that day.

The Force was joined by the Sloop REDPOLE and Frigate SPEY on the 20th and the Cruiser PHOEBE on the 21st as the force took up station off Ramree Island. Bombardment of the northern tip of the Island commenced at 08:30, one hour before the landing of troops from the 71st Brigade of the 26th Indian Division was to commence. AMEER provided CAP and carried out fall-of-shot spotting.

Bombardment was carried out on January 20th and the landing took place on 21st;later that day, her task completed, QUEEN ELIZABETH returned to Ceylon in company. with NAPIER and REDPOLE . Flying operations went well, there were only two flight deck crashes during this operation, Hellcat JW745 caught a late wire and went into the barrier, on the 21st and Hellcat JW760 was lost on the 24th when it crashed on the flight deck and went over the side into the sea. The pilot Lt. KR Hickson was safely rescued.

Having completed her mission in the Ramree Island landings AMEER transferred to Force 65 on January 25th for further amphibious landings, Operation 'SANKEY'. Elements of TF65, the Cruisers NEWCASTLE (Rear Admiral A.D. Read, CB, KENYA, NIGERIA, and Destroyer PALADIN had sailed from Trincomalee on January 23rd with Force 'Wellington' a force of 500 Fleet Royal Marines embarked aboard the cruisers. HMS AMEER, the Cruiser PHOEBE, Destroyers RAIDER and NORMAN, and Frigates TEVIOT and SPEY having disengaged from the 'MATADOR' operations and steamed south to rendezvoused with the main force on January 25th to provide air cover during landings on Cheduba Island.. D-Day for Operation 'SANKEY' wasJanuary26th and Hellcats from 904 squadron provided CAP and air cover for the landing force of Landing Craft with BYMS and an M.Ls escorted by the Destroyer RAPID.

Force 65 left the Arakan area late on the afternoon of January 31st after carrying out a final bombardment on targets on Ramree Island. NEWCASTLE and KENYA arrived at Trincomalee on February 2nd, NIGERIA, PHOEBE, AMEER, TEVIOT, and SPEY arrived Trincomalee February3rd, 804 squadron disembarking to RNAS Trincomalee.


HMS ARBITER

Used as ferry and replacement carrier.

HMS ARCHER

Convoy HX 239: The weather had deteriorated by the time the elements of EG4 joined HX 239 on Friday May 21st [1943] and ARCHER was unable to launch aircraft until the 22nd when dawn to dusk patrols resumed, there was still a heavy swell though which meant the deck was pitching and rolling and making landing hazardous. The convoy was ordered in eleven columns, ARCHER took station inside the convoy as the rear ship of the seventh column, in Position 74, where she remained except when required to manoeuvre outside convoy to steam into wind to operate aircraft.

During the forenoon of May 22nd Swordfish 'F' sighted a surfaced U-Boat shadowing two corvettes from convoy ON 184's escort, this convoy was about thirty miles to the northward on a south-easterly course. This aircraft was only lightly armed with two depth charges, at the time of take-off, 13:15, the wind speed over ARCHER's deck was down to 17 knots, insufficient to launch a full armed Swordfish. When Swordfish 'F' turned to investigate the U-boat turned 180 degrees which indicated the aircrafts approach had been detected. The Swordfish approached the U-Boat from dead ahead but it showed no signs of submerging, but started to zig-zag. A signal from ARCHER informed the crew that a second Swordfish and a Martlet were on their way, so Swordfish 'F' loitered while waiting for the reinforcements. A short time later, about two miles on the new course, the U-boat began to dive and Swordfish 'F' immediately began an attack run from the bow. 'Her two depth charges exploded twenty seconds after the U-boat had disappeared about a hundred yards ahead of the U-Boat. 'The Martlet and second Swordfish arrived a few minutes later and remained on station until ONSLAUGHT arrived at the smoke float dropped by the Swordfish at 15:12. The U-boat managed to give them the slip and no further contact was made. Two Swordfish and one Martlet were kept on patrol until it was dark at 22:30, when all aircraft landed on.

On Sunday May 23rd Swordfish 'F' took off at 08:00 with orders to patrol from the convoy's starboard bow through ahead and port beam to astern. At 08:15 ARCHER received good HF/DF bearings of a U-boat transmission from PELICAN and FAULKNOR, giving a fix on the port quarter of the convoy at a range of about twenty miles. Swordfish 'F' was ordered to return to the convoy and then sent to investigate on PELICAN's last bearing. At 08:55 the Swordfish sighted a U-boat on the surface almost directly ahead making about two knots. and immediately climbed into the cloud base to make its approach. The U-boat dived, but 'F's crew could see the white feather trailing from her periscope. At 09:05 the Swordfish made its attack dropping their stick of four Mk XI depth-charges followed by a smoke float; 'F' remained circling round it until 10:10, but no further traces of the U-boat were seen; it had been badly damaged and was only just able to make its base at Lorient.

At 09:15 Swordfish ‘G’ and Martlet B took off to support Swordfish F's attack. As visibility was low the Martlet was ordered to remain in company with Swordfish ‘G’ rather than proceed ahead to the target. At 0:935 while looking out for signs of Swordfish ‘F’ the crews of both aircraft sighted another U-boat on their port bow heading straight towards them, its pronounced foaming wake indicating a speed of about 12 knots. This boat was unusual, it had a particularly large conning tower, and was probably a 'milch cow' tanker for refuelling operational U-boats at sea. Both aircraft attacked at once but the U-boat saw them and turned hard to starboard and began a crash dive. The Martlet reached the submarine in time to fire 800 rounds of o.5in ammunition at the after end of the conning tower and stern gratings. The slower Swordfish ‘G’ passed over the swirl twenty-five seconds after the U-boat had dived and delivered her four depth charges. The first fell on the edge of the swirl and the remaining three crossed the track to starboard. ‘G’ remained in the vicinity for another three quarters of an hour, but sighted nothing further.

Later that morning Swordfish 'B', pilot Sub-Lt H. Horrocks RNVR, observer Sub-Lt W. W. N. Balkwill RNVR, and Telegraphist air gunner Leading Airman J. W. Wick made a rocket attack on, and sank the German U-boat U-752; the first U-boat to be sunk by rocket attack alone, and only the second to be destroyed by aircraft operating from an escort carrier. At 1018 hours Swordfish 'B' was flying at 1 500 feet when a surfaced U-boat was sighted at a distance of about ten miles making about 15 knots. The Swordfish immediately turned to port into cloud cover and maneuvered into a good position for a surprise attack. Coming out of the cloud cover they saw the U-boat very slightly to port of them, holding her original course and speed at a range of about one mile. Sub-Lt Horrocks dived to press the attack. The attack consisted of four salvos of rockets armed with 251b explosive warheads , two rockets per salvo. The first pair were fired at a range of 8oo yards achieved complete surprise, but hit the water about 150 yards short; now alerted the U-boat began to crash dive. The second salvo, fired at 400 yards, went in the water about 30 feet short of the conning tower. The third salvo, fired at 300 yards, fell about 10 feet short and slightly abaft the conning tower.
By now the U-boat was at a sharp diving angle with her stern clear of the water when the fourth salvo, fired at zoo yards, smashed into the submarine on the waterline about twenty feet ahead of the rudders. Her dive aborted the U-Boat began to circle to port, gushing out oil. Crew men appeared on deck and manned her guns at which point Swordfish 'B' withdrew and requested fighter cover. Martlet 'B' arrived on the scene within a minute of being vectored and fired her remaining 600 rounds in a long burst into the conning tower, killing the U-boat's captain. The submarine's gun crew fired a few rounds at the Martlet, then retreated into the conning tower. The fighter then directed the destroyer ESCAPADE, which was about ten miles away, towards the U-boat. At 1050 the crew of the U-boat came on deck and took to the water as their ship sank beneath them. ESCAPADE arrived a few minutes later and picked up survivors.


HMS ATHELING

Used for ferry duties.

HMS ATTACKER

Operation DRAGOON, the invasion of Southern France: August 1944

At Malta ATTACKER joined Carrier Force TF88.1 for Operation DRAGOON. TF88 also included CVEs EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, PURSUER and SEARCHER, Cruisers ROYALIST and DELHI screened by five RN destroyers and one Greek destroyer. The force exercised off Malta between August 2nd and 12th, the actual invasion commenced in the early hours of August 15th.

The following day the first 8 aircraft launched at 09.30 on a bombing and strafing mission between Brignoles and Aix. Red section was targeting a railway bridge, and though the bridge was not destroyed the road was cratered and an armoured car, a bowser, a lorry and two trailers and a searchlight were all set on fire. 26 sorties were flown during the day - 8 bombing, 10 TacR, 2 spotting and 6 CAP (Combat Air Patrol), and at the end of the day 879 had 24 aircraft serviceable. Comment was made on the keenness shown by the troops. One aircraft was damaged by flak but returned to the ship OK. Similar sorties were flown on the 19th, Sub Lt W.A. Clarke flying in Seafire LR704 successfully dive bombed some suspected tanks, through severe AA fire, hitting two lorries before bouncing over all the arrestor wires and flying into the barrier on his return to ATTACKER..
 

Yokel

LE
HMS AUDACITY

802 re-embarked on October 28th[1941] this time with 8 Martlets and 10 pilots. AUDACITY sailed for Gibraltar escorting convoy OG 76 leaving the Clyde on October 29th, her aircraft operating the same routine as on her previous round trip to Gibraltar but now operating 5 section pairs one was ‘Released’ or stood down every twenty-four hours.

Severe weather prevented any flying until November 7th and things had improved enough to permit the launch of BLACK section to investigate an aircraft detected at 17:40 not transmitting their IFF some 22 miles east of the convoy. They failed to make contact and returned to the ship which was pitching and rolling quite badly in a rain squall. On approaching the stern, which was rising and falling by 65 feet and the deck rolling sixteen degrees Sub-Lt Patterson was caught over the rounddown by the deck rising up to smash into his aircraft which bounced over the aerator wires and slid over the port side. His aircraft floatation gear worked and he was rescued by one of the escort destroyers within minutes of entering the water. His no. 2, Sub-Lt Fletcher managed to make a safe landing.

The following day another contact was detected at 11:48 and BLUE section was scrambled to intercept; they failed to intercept and were ordered to orbit astern of the convoy. When the shadowing Fw200 of KG40 was acquired BLUE section attacked setting it on fire, Lt. Cdr Wintour in Martlet BJ516 was observed to take fire from the dorsal turret and was killed, his no. 2 Sub-Lt Hutchison re-engaged and made five more attacks shooting the FW200 down at 12:09 in position 41°9'N 14°30'W. At 13:48 another aircraft was detected at extreme range, RED section was sent to intercept, this turn out to be a friendly and they returned to the convoy. On approaching the convoy, they spotted 2 more FW200s, one high and one low; Sub-Lt Brown attacked the low one and Sub-Lt Lamb the other. Sub-Lt Brown finally shot his target down into the sea after a prolonged game of cat and mouse in the cloud cover in position 41°18'N 15°28'W. Sub-Lt Lamb was unable to keep track of his target which escaped into the clouds.

AUDACITY and convoy OG 76 reached Gibraltar on November 11th, with no ships lost. There were no spare aircraft held at North Front so the squadron maintenance crews set about trying to get the 6 remaining Martlets serviceable but by the time the ship was ready to sail only 4 were airworthy. While at Gibraltar a new squadron commanding officer, Lieutenant (P) D. C. E. F. Gibson, DSC, RN arrived from the UK. He was a Fulmar pilot and formerly commanding officer of 803 squadron.

Two days after AUDACITY arrived at Gibraltar the Fleet Carrier ARK ROYAL was torpedoed on the afternoon of the 13th. She sank with almost all of her aircraft still onboard while under tow by the tugs HMS THAMES and HMS ST. DAY about 30 miles east of Gibraltar the next morning. When AUDACITY sailed to join the UK bound convoy HG-76 she carried a number of the survivors for passage home. There had been talk of her also embarking several Swordfish that had been able to land at North Front, this would have increased the A/S capability and allowed the Martlets to focus on aerial threats but a lack of Observers and Telegraphist Air Gunners meant this plan was not implemented.

The serviceable Martlets had been operating ashore for over a month to keep the pilots in condition, they re-embarked on December 14th as AUDACITY sailed to join the 36th Escort Group to cover convoy HG-76. The Convoy consisted of 32 merchantmen, 9 escorts, 3 destroyers, and AUDACITY as air cover. Although the Swordfish from North Front provided A/S patrols until the 17th, detecting 2 U-Boats on the 15th, AUDACITY’s Martlets began flying on the 15th at the request of the Escort Commander.

During the dawn patrol on the 17th, shortly after 09:00 one of her aircraft spotted a U-Boat on the surface 22 miles from the convoy and attacked with machine gun fire forcing it to submerge. Another was sighted in the early afternoon when Sub-Lt Fletcher of BLACK section was on station over the convoy, he made an attack run but was hit by canon shells from the U-131 and was killed at 12:47 in position 34°12'N 13°35'W when one round entered through the windshield. The U-131 was later attacked using depth charges and gunfire from the escort destroyers EXMOOR, BLANKNEY, and STANLEY, the corvette PENTSTEMON and the sloop STORK. After 20 minutes they crew abandoned ship as the submarine sank stern first. Sub-Lt Fletcher’s body was retrieved by STORK and he was burial at sea the next morning.

At 09:06 on the 18th another U-Boat, U-434, was detected and forced to the surface by depth charges from BLANKNEY and STANLEY, again the crew abandoned ship moments before she rolled over and sank. At 11:00 2 FW200 Condors where sighted and Lt. Gibson and Sub-Lt Hutchison were sent to engage them. Sadly, the poor state of their weary Martlets became very apparent when the guns on both aircraft jammed during the first attack pass and they had to break off. It was learned later that evening that the Germans knew the convoy course and speed plus the presence of AUDACITY in the escort force. Later that evening aa U-Boat was detected nine miles distant on the convoy’s port beam, although torpedoes were fired none found a target, and despite hours of searching by three of the escorts she slipped away.

At 04:15 hours on Dec 19th 1941 the destroyer STANLEY was hit by two of three torpedoes fired by U-574, while on station astern of the convoy and immediately sank about 330 miles west of Cape Sines, Portugal. U-574 was herself sunk 35 minutes after the attack by STORK after forcing her to the surface after dropping 15 depth charges, then rammed her and dropped more shallow set charges, eventually sinking her. STORK and SAMPHIRE later picked up the survivors from STANLEY. At 06:15 hours U-108 fired a spread of two torpedoes at the convoy damaging the merchantman RUCKINGE, she was later shelled and sunk by SAMPHIRE.

Later in the morning of the 19th RED section engaged a pair of FW200 Condors, Sub-Lt Brown shooting one down using a new ‘head-on’ attack which had worked on a previous engagement, Sub-Lt Lamb’s target escaped into cloud before he could manoeuvre into attack position. Another FW200 approached in the afternoon and YELLOW section were despatched to intercept; Lt. J. W. Sleigh eventually shot this one down with a ‘head-on’ attack but his Marled clipped the falling Condor as he shot past striking his port wing tip. He managed to land safely but discovered part of the Germans alerion hanging from his tailwheel.

On the morning of the 20th RED section was sent at 10:30 to intercept a lone FW200 but this turned into ‘hide & seek’ in and out of the heavy cloud layer, it eventually escaped. At I5:00 hours the patrolling Martlets reported two U-boats nearly ahead of the convoy. The escort Commander altered the convoy course but did not send any vessels to investigate.

At 09:10 hours on the morning of the 21st Sub-Lt Brown was on the dawn patrol when he sighted a pair of U-Boats lying side by side on the surface some twenty-five miles astern of the convoy. There was a plank between them, and men were moving from one to the other. As he got closer, they opened fire and he was forced to orbit overhead out of range. One U-Boat appeared to be damaged, a hole could be seen the port bow. It was thought these where the two boats detected the previous evening and the damage explained why the convoy was unmolested that night. Sub-Lt Brown made one diving attack, straffing the two conning towers and killing the men on the deck and the connecting plank. Both U-boats slowly made off on the surface away from the convoy. AUDACITY could not launch the third Martlet for some time as it was unserviceable, and by the time it reached the scene both U-Boats had submerged.


September 14 [1942]: At 09:40 the patrolling Swordfish sighted U-589 about 7 miles to starboard of the convoy and marked where she had dived by a smoke float before a shadowing Ju 88 approached forcing the Swordfish to break off. U-589 was later sunk at 13:07 by depth charges from the destroyer HMS ONSLOW and a Swordfish.

At 12:30 the German torpedo-bombers returned; a formation of III/KG 26 was reported by a Swordfish to be headed for the convoy at wave top height. AVENGER immediately left her position in the convoy to turn into wind and commenced launching the immediate readiness’ fighters to join the pair circling the convoy. She launched 9 Sea Hurricanes before the attackers reached the convoy. As the formation approached the convoy it divided and one part turned towards AVENGER. Her aircraft focused their attention on the group heading straight for the carrier splitting them up and made many release their torpedoes too soon, several where knocked down by the AA barrage. No torpedo hits were achieved and by 12:45 eleven Ju 88s had been shot down.

HMS BATTLER

Served as a ferry and during operations in Italy and with the Eastern Fleet.

HMS BEGUM

Ferry and ASW in the Far East.

HMS BITER

Operation TORCH - November 1942: Seafires from FURIOUS strafed the Vichy French airfield at Tafraoui, while eight of her Albacores, escorted by Six Hurricanes from DASHER as top cover, and six from BITER as close escort, attacked the field at La Senia. They were attacked by Dw520s over La Senia as they began their attack dive, but they destroyed 46 aircraft on the ground despite the leader, going down in flames in his first dive. Three Albacores failed to return, but two of the crews were safe; two others returned with damage from French fighters.

BITER launched a flight of 6 Sea Hurricanes in the early hours of November 8th to form up with the 8 Albacores heading for the coast; one of the aircraft went unserviceable after take-off and returned to the ship. 800 squadron’s Sub-Lt R.M. Crosley flying in AG334 shot down 2 Dw520 over La Senia airfield in rapid succession, both succumbing to a half second burst of fire; the first pilot bailed out, the second went down with his machine, just north of the airfield. On returning to the ship he was ordered to land on DASHER as BITER had a fouled deck (Sub-Lt R.L. Thompson in JS273, who had also shot down a Dw520 over La Senia had crashed into the barrier).

Sub-Lt B Ritchie took down another; in total 5 Dw520s were confirmed destroyed over the airfield and a further 7 were destroyed by strafing on the ground. Sub-Lt Crosley was launched again at 09:30 to join a second flight of five aircraft for 800 to conduct patrols over the beach at Arzeu; after 2 hours of fruitless patrolling they headed back to BITER, all but one were ordered to land on DASHER, the five aircraft were to remain on her in lieu of 804 who had all failed to return from the original mission (Many of the Sea Hurricanes taking part in the operation, from both 800 and 804 got lost on the return leg, many safely landed on a flat Salt lake and were flown off later when fuel was found, some ditched).


Convoy ONS4 - April 1943: On the 25th the convoy had entered the danger zone, an undetected submarine, U-404, fired a spread of four torpedoes at BITER, all detonated prematurely and BITER escaped without damage. At 16:25 Swordfish HS442 ('L') sighted and attacked U-203 which was on the surface approximately 8 miles from the carrier. Two depth charges were dropped and the submarine crash dived, no sign of damage was seen and two smoke floats were dropped to mark the location at 55°05'N 4f25'W. PATHFINDER from BITER's screen was detached to follow up the attack and twenty minutes later she was guided to the location by the circling Swordfish, and began searching with her ASDIC. BITER too was actively searching with her ASDIC and once a contact was made launched a second at 16:51. BITER dropped two of her own depth charges over a strong contact, one failed to explode and nothing was seen to suggest any damage had been done to the U-Boat. PATHFINDER then got her first ping and a persistent hunt was on; PATHFINDER made repeated depth charge attacks. At 18:40, after two hours and five separate attacks, U-203 bobbed violently above the surface, and her crew began to abandon ship.

HMS CAMPANIA

She served as an escort on Russia convoys and as an ASW carrier in the Arctic. Deployed to the Baltic after the German surrender; operated as a transport post-war.

HMS CHARGER

The USS CHARGER operated off the East coast of the United states as a deck landing training carrier, and her services were used by many of the Fleet Air Arm squadrons that formed, and worked-up, at US Naval Air Stations on the US East coast.

HMS CHASER

Her repairs were to take until mid January 1944 to complete, on returning to active duty CHASER was allocated to trade protection duties on the Russian convoy route, She embarked the 22 aircraft and personnel of 816 composite naval air squadron, 9 Swordfish and 5 Wildcat, from RNAS Donibristle on January 19th and proceeded to Scapa Flow. The aircraft of 816 were put ashore to RNAS Hatston on February 12 but re-embarked the 16th.

HMS CHASER sailed from Scapa Flow on the 21st for to join convoy JW57 escorted by the Destroyers WANDERER and WATCHMAN, and the Frigates BYRON and STRULE. This was code named Operation "FX", the escorting of 42 merchant ships to North Russia. CHASER and her escort joined JW57 the following day and were deployed in Position 63. The sea was rough with frequent snowstorms and very low temperatures which caused problems, but despite this the Swordfish managed to maintained anti-submarine patrols.


HMS DASHER

On November 8th 1942 DASHER, in company with sister ships AVENGER and BITER participated in Operation 'TORCH', in support of landings in North Africa. DASHER, BITER and the carrier ARGUS operated off the coast of Oran, between them they operated 30 Sea Hurricanes and 3 Swordfish. DASHER had embarked two squadrons for the operation, 804 on October 26th and 891 on October 16th, with six Sea Hurricanes each; upon the ships return to the Clyde both squadrons disembarked to RNAS Donibristle on November 18th.

The ship next went to Liverpool, arriving there on November 20th where she entered a shipyard for modifications to be carried out. This was primarily the fitting of an air defence operations room to improve her fighter capabilities. she remained there until mid-January when she returned to active duty, being allocated to the Home Fleet; DASHER embarked the 3 Swordfish of 837 NAS 'D' flight 0n January 22nd before steaming for Scapa Flow, arriving there on February 1st, to begin working up in preparation for convoy escort duty. Subsequently DASHER was assigned to the escort group covering Russian bound convoy JW53 which sailed from Loch Ewe on the 15th.


 
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HMS EMPEROR

EMPEROR's first offensive tasking was Operation "Tungsten" which commenced on April 3rd. EMPEROR operated in company with the fleet carriers VICTORIOUS, and FURIOUS, and the CVEs PURSUER, SEARCHER, and FENCER in carrying out the first strike by aircraft of the Home Fleet against the TIRPITZ in Kaafjord, Norway. Some damage was caused to the TIRPITZ, while the supply ship CA Larsen was severely damaged. EMPEROR lost one aircraft during this operation, S/Lt. Hoare RNZN of 800 Sqdn ditched near the ship and was rescued by one of the escort group.

After withdrawing to Scapa both squadrons disembarked to RNAS Hatston, Orkney, on April 6th. This was a short break before re-embarking on the 11th to prepare for Operation "Planet", a repeat of "Tungsten" taking place on April 24th utilising the same force; this was cancelled however due to bad weather. The weather situation improved sufficiently for the next round of operations to be carried out on the 26th. This was operation "Ridge Able" which saw EMPEROR, in company with the Fleet carriers VICTORIOUS, FURIOUS, and the CVEs PURSUER, SEARCHER, and STRIKER, to conduct attacks on enemy shipping in Bodo and Rorvik areas respectively. A second stage, codename "Ridge Baker" had to cancelled, again due to bad weather. However "Ridge Able" did result in 3 ships sunk off Bodo and a 4th damaged. Operation "Ridge Able" cost EMPEROR two pilots, S/Lt. Brine of 804 Sqdn died from his injuries rafter his aircraft struck the rounddown on landing after the strikes, and S/Lt. Roncoroni of 800 Sqdn failed to return, ditching south of Bodo after being hit by flak and was taken prisoner.

A further round of anti-shipping strikes were conducted in May, the first being Operation "Hoops", on the 8th in company with the CVEs SEARCHER and STRIKER which saw attacks on shipping between Gossen and Kristiansand North, as well as strikes against oil tanks at Kjehn and a fish oil factory at Fossevaag.
Five enemy aircraft were destroyed by the escort fighters; Pilots from 800 Sqdn accounted for three of these. One Bf109 fell to S/Lt. JG Devitt and a second was shared by S/Lt. TH Hoare RNZN & S/Lt. ID Scanes RNZN, and Lt B Ritchie RNVR shot down Fw190. One pilot was lost; S/Lt. RL Thompson was shot down by German fighters 7m off Smolen Island and was drowned.
Operation "Hoops" was followed on the 14th by Operation "Potluck A", an attack on shipping at Rorvik, in company with STRIKER. The strike resulted in three enemy merchant ships hit and damaged by bombs. 5 He115 floatplanes were strafed and destroyed by pilots from EMPEROR's 800 squadron; Lt. B Ritchie RNVR and Lt. Cdr SG Orr who scored one kill each and shared a further one each with S/Lt. TH Hoare RNZN along with S/Lt. R Hooker RNZN. One pilot, S/Lt. RS Hollway, flying Hellcat JV135 returned to the ship off Vikna but his undercarriage jammed halfway down; he was forced to abandon his aircraft and baled out but was drowned before he could be rescued. Phase two, Operation "Potluck B", was launched the following day, again in company with HMS STRIKER; this involved a further attack being made on the fish oil factory at Fossevaag. Two armed trawlers were strafed and sunk. On the 16th the force withdrew to Scapa, This was EMPEROR's last operation with the Home Fleet; she was re-allocated to Western Approaches Command and was ordered to proceed to the Clyde.
EMPEROR was to spend the next few weeks providing air cover for anti-submarine forces and convoys operating in the western approaches. Air coverage was provided for the Gibraltar/Freetown bound convoys OS78/KMS52, which departed Liverpool on May 22nd and the Liverpool bound SL158/MKS49 which departed Gibraltar on May 29th. On handing off her charges EMPEROR next joined the CVEs PURSUER and TRACKER for the naval part of the D-Day landings in Normandy, Operation 'Neptune' giving fighter cover over the western approaches to the English Channel from June 5th. On June 18th 804 NAS was disbanded, its equipment and aircrew being absorbed into 800 NAS to form a single squadron with a strength of 20 Hellcats. The squadron disembarked to RNAS Ayr the following day as EMPEROR returned to the Clyde to prepare for passage to the Mediterranean for her next operations.

HMS EMPRESS

Operation "STACEY": February 22nd - May 6th 1945: On February 22nd EMPRESS sailed as part of Force 62 which comprised of the CVEs EMPRESS flying the flag of Vice Admiral Walker and AMEER, the cruiser KENYA, destroyers VOLAGE, VIRAGO, VIGILANT, and frigates SPEY, SWALE and PLYM. Logistic support was proved by the Tanker Group, Force 61, RFA ECHODALE escorted by the frigate TRENT. Force 62 was to conduct Operation STACEY, a series photographic reconnaissance missions covering Sumatra and the Kra Isthmus EMPRESS spent 24th and 25th February cruising around the Andaman Islands, small groups of Japanese aircraft were picked up on the radar screens but it was not until March 1st that the first enemy aircraft were engaged by 804 Squadron Hellcats. AMEER's planes claiming a Dinah and an Oscar, while EMPRESS's flight of four took out another Oscar. These three Japanese aircraft were the first to be shot down by fighters from British escort carriers. On completion of the photo reconnaissance of the Kra Isthmus, the adjacent islands and Penang the ships of Force 62 had moved to a position off Simalur Island by March 4th where similar missions were carried out over Sumatra and Sabang. On completion of Operation STACEY the group returned to Trincomalee, the aircraft of 888 squadron flew off EMPRESS on March 6th and headed for RNAS Colombo Racecourse.

HMS FENCER

After working up and sea trials Fencer was employed as an ASW carrier on convoy escort duties on the North Atlantic, Russian and Gibraltar routes,; between October 1943 and August 1944 she escorted 12 convoys. Fencer embarked 842 naval air squadron, initially operating 9 Swordfish & 6 Seafire aircraft, on August 5th 1943.
During September Fencer provided anti-submarine cover escorting a special convoy to the Azores, transporting the personnel and equipment for number 247 group Royal Air Force which was to setup flying operations on the Azores Islands of Fayal and Terceira. She embarked the aircraft of 700 'W' flight for this operation, comprising of 6 Walrus and 4 Swordfish to increase her anti-submarine capabilities. On completion of the Azores operation 700 'W' disembarked to RNAS Machrihanish on November 19th and Fencer prepared to resume convoy and AS duties. 842 squadron received a boost in November , on the 17th when 4 Wildcats were added to their strength, these became 842 'Q' flight, embarking for operations on the 20th. One of Fencer's new Wildcats successfully shot down a German patrol aircraft on December 1st whist escorting a Gibraltar convoy.

On February 10th 1944 the German submarine U-666 was sunk West of Ireland by Swordfish of 842 Squadron operating from Fencer in support of trans-.Atlantic convoy ON223 UK - New York.

April 3rd 1944 Fencer, in company with escort carriers Emperor, Pursuer and Searcher provide anti-submarine cover for operation 'TUNGSTEN', Admiral Fraser's strike force of the battleships Duke of York and Anson and fleet carriers Victorious and Furious launching Barracuda strikes against the German battleship Tirpitz in Kaa Fjord, Norway.. For this operation 842 was embarked with 12 Swordfish II an 8 Wildcat IV (the Seafires having been gradually replaced, the last three leaving in March). On completion of operations Fencer sailed for the Kola Inlet to escort a return 45 ship convoy, RA59. This convoy left Kola Apr. 28, bound for Loch Ewe, Scotland. U-boats attack the convoy to the northwest of Norway and one merchant ship is lost; Swordfish of 842 Squadron from Fencer sink three U-boats with depth charges - on May 1st, 'U-277', May 2nd 'U-674' and May 3rd 'U-959'. The convoy arrives at Loch Ewe with 44 ships on 6th May.

HMS HUNTER


Her next operation was the allied invasion of Southern France, operation 'DRAGOON'. Between August 15th & 27th 1944 HMS Hunter joined eight other CVEs in Task Force 88 as part the covering force for operation 'DRAGOON'. The CVEs Attacker, Emperor, Khedive, Pursuer and Searcher formed Task Group 88.1 while Hunter, Stalker, and US CVEs TulagI and Kasaan Bay formed Task group 88.2. For this series of operations Hunter's 807 squadron was equipped with 22 Seafire L.IIIs, 1 Seafire LR.IIc and 1 Swordfish.

On the 21st Task group 88.2 withdrew to Maddalena, Sardinia, for replenishment after flying 219 sorties; Hunter and Stalker were back on station on the 24th. After flying a further 88 sorties Hunter and Stalker withdrew to Sardinia on August 27th. Over the 13 days of operation 'DRAGOON' 807 naval air squadron completed a total of 307 sorties; 36 dive-bombing, 56 armed reconnaissance, 96 CAP (combat air patrol), 48 TARCAP (target area combat air patrol), 16 PR (photographic reconnaissance) and 55 escort missions for the loss of 4 aircraft and 11 deck landing accidents. After storing ship Hunter sailed for Alexandria, arriving there on September 2nd.

Hunter next put to sea in company with Searcher, Pursuer and Khedive on the 9th for Operation "OUTING", a short series of anti-shipping strikes in the Aegean Sea, returning to Alexandria on the 15th. A second series of strikes were carried out in Operation "OUTING II" between September 30th and October 11t . During this period of operations 807 naval air squadron flew 135 sorties including CAP, TARCAP, dive-bombing, and shore bombardment spotting for the Cruiser HMS Aurora. After withdrawing on October 11th Hunter disembarked 807 naval air squadron to RN Air Station Dekheila, Egypt in preparation for her return to the UK for a short refit. Hunter in company with Attacker left Alexandria on October 31st, arriving in the UK on November 10th.

Hunter was re-allocated to 21 ACS (21st Aircraft carrier Squadron) on November 29th 1944, 21 ACS was a part of the recently formed East Indies Fleet and was to eventually comprise of the CVEs Ameer, Attacker, Emperor, Empress, Hunter, Khedive, Pursuer, Searcher, Shah, Stalker, and Trouncer. Hunter proceeded to Malta to begin another refit which started on December 6th to prepare her for tropical operations. Her modifications and refit completed Hunter sailed for Trincomalee, Ceylon on February 21st 1945; the ship was reunited with 807 naval air squadron on March 6th when they re-embarked from RN Air Station Dekheila before transiting the Suez Canal.

Hunter arrived off Ceylon on March 20th and disembarked 807 to RN Air Station Katukurunda; she spent the next month working up with 21 ACS and 807 in preparation for Operation 'DRACULA', the reoccupation of Rangoon, which began on April 30th. Hunter, Emperor, Khedive and Stalker operated off Rangoon providing air strikes and support for invasion troops until May 4th before moving south to strike the Tenasserim coast on May 5th and 6th.

HMS KHEDIVE
The invasion of Southern France Operation DRAGOON commenced in the early hours of August 15th, TF 88 flying operations commenced at 06:10, the last aircraft landed on at 20:35. Only daylight flying operations were carried out. The assault area, centred on St Tropez, extended some 30 miles along the Cote d'Azur. It was divided into four sectors, code named (from east to west) Camel, Delta, Alpha and Sitka. The assault troops were formed of three American divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced by the French 1st Armoured Division. The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), the 45th Infantry Division landed in the centre at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropez), and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphaël). A fourth Force, the First Special Service Force, a joint U.S.-Canadian special forces unit was landed on the offshore islands Operation Sitka to neutralise the Hyères Islands, (Porquerolles, Port-Cros, Bagaud, and Levant). By the end of the first day, 60,150 troops and 6,737 vehicles had been put ashore, including the first French armoured contingent.

On ‘D’ Day 899 flew 8 force cover sorties and 24 armed as fighter/bombers (F/B) with 500lb bomb loads ranged inland attacking coastal Defence Batteries and bombing roads between Guers and Le Muey. On D+1 they flew 6 Force cover and 6 beach cover sorties with 16 F/B sorties inland attacking motor transport and railway tracks west of Brignoles, and scored one hit on Coastal Battery K.26. Sub-Lt E.A.Gentry RNVR was forced to bale out over the sea during a F/B sortie after being hit by flak, he was safely rescued by RAMALIES. On the third day of operations (D+2) they flew 4 Force cover and 6 beach cover sorties with 8 F/B aircraft attacked a fort on Port Cros Island scored four hits and destroyed two huts. Sub-Lt D.A. Carey RCNVR was killed during a low level attack on MT, his aircraft NF661 was seen to fly into a hill at Fuveaux.

D+3 was a slightly less intense flying program with 6 Force cover sorties and 8 F/B sorties which attacked motor transport destroying 3 vehicles and damaged 8 more. The next day, D+4, the squadron flew 6 Force cover and 16 F/B sorties resulting in the destruction of 4 cars, and 1 lorry and badly damaged 3 tanks and 3 Lorries carrying 20 infantry. Two Hellcats from EMPEROR were landed on and later launched to return to their parent ship.
 

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HMS NAROB

First offensive operation: Operation 'OFFSPRING': HMS NABOB was loaned to the Home Fleet from August 1st 1944 and she proceeded to the anchorage at Scapa Flow. On August 10th NABOB operated with the fleet carrier INDEFATIGABLE and sister CVE TRUMPETER in Operation 'OFFSPRING'. This was an operation laying aerial mines in Haarhamsfjord and Lepsorev in what was to prove the largest aircraft mine laying operation by elements of the Home Fleet, 47 mines were successfully laid by the Avenger crews of 846 and 852 Naval Air Squadrons with 1 aircraft lost. 'OFFSPRING' also saw fighter aircraft attacking ground targets, a WT station on Vigra Island and 6 Bf-110 aircraft on the ground at Gossen airfield were strafed and destroyed: 1 Firefly and 3 Seafires of the fighter escort were lost.

Second offensive operation: Operation 'GOODWOOD': Operation 'GOODWOOD' was a three stage series of strikes against the German Battle Ship TIRPITZ to take place between the 21st and 28th of August 1944. This operation was to see 247 sorties of Barracudas, Hellcats and Corsairs launched from four carriers, VICTORIOUS, FURIOUS, TRUMPETER and STRIKER.
NABOB and 852 were tasked with providing ASW cover for the task force. For this operation NABOB embarked three Avengers from 856 naval air squadron from RNAS Eglinton, Northern Ireland on the 18th.

HMS NAIRANA
NAIRANA sailed from the Clyde on January 29th for operations with the 2nd Escort Group to provide anti-submarine cover for convoys in the Atlantic.

HMS PATROLLER

Ferry role.

HMS PREMIER

Operation "HANDFAST": November 20th 1944: On the 19th a small force, Force 3, comprising of the Cruiser DIADEM, CVEs PREMIER and PURSUER with the destroyers ZEALOUS, ONSLAUGHT, SCOURGE and SCORPION left Scapa Flow for Operation "HANDFAST", aerial minelaying in Salhusstrommen near Haugesund, Norway by 856 Squadron's Avengers with fighter protection provided by the Wildcats of PURSUER's 881 Squadron. For the mine laying operation 856 flew 9 Avengers and her 4 Wildcats, these were joined by 8 Wildcats from 881 providing High cover and a further 8 for low level cover. The operation was executed on the 20th and the aircraft encountered light, inaccurate flak which caused light damage to one Avenger which was unable to drop it's mine. Of the 8 other mines laid in Kara Sound 7 were placed correctly. All aircraft returned to their carriers safely and the force returned to Scapa Flow departing the area the same evening.

Operation "PROVIDENT": November 26th 1944: PREMIER was not in port long, she was back at sea as part of a force comprising the fleet carrier IMPLACABLE, CVE's PREMIER and PURSUER and the Cruiser DEVONSHIRE, with escorting destroyers MYNGS, SCOURGE, ZEPHYR, SCORPION, SCOURGE, SIOUX and ALGONQUIN for operation "PROVIDENT", to carry out air attacks against coastal convoys between Mosjoen and Rorvik off Norwegian coast.

Operation "URBANE": December 7th 1944: HMS PREMIER was next at sea as part of Force 1, comprising the fleet carrier IMPLACABLE, Cruiser DIADEM, HM Escort Carriers TRUMPETER and PREMIER, Destroyers ZAMBESI, SAVAGE, VIGILANT, ZEALOUS, SERAPIS, SIOUX, ALGONQUIN and Norwegian destroyer STORD sailed for a shipping strike off Hagesund and a repeat air mine laying sortie in Kara Sound, Operation "URBANE". For this operation her aircraft complement was adjusted so that she carried only Avengers; her own 12 aircraft flew aboard while at anchor in Scapa Flow on December 5th, they were joined by a detachment of 5 Avengers from TRUMPETER's 846 Squadron which were displaced by 856's Wildcat light (now 8 in number) which was to operate from TRUMPETER for Operation URBANE.

The force set sail on the 6th and were in position to begin operations on the 7th with aircraft being launched in the afternoon. PREMIER's Avengers successfully laid 10 mines while the Wildcats attacked several targets, including a factory, a shore battery and a radar station. 856 was to suffer their first operational fatality during Operation URBANE, Lt WS Vittle was killed when his Wildcat (JV674 'P-V') failed to return to HMS TRUMPETER after the operation, his aircraft was seen to be trailing smoke after being hit by flak and ditched off the coast. On the 8th aircraft carried out attacks on shipping between Bergen and Stavanger before Force 1 disengaged and headed for Scapa Flow, arriving back there on the morning of the 9th.

HMS PURSUER


Repairs and anti-submarine sweeps in support of Operation NEPTUNE: May -June 1944: On reaching Liverpool Bay on May 1st both 881 and 896 squadron disembarked to RNAS Burscough, Lancashire where they remained until the ship put to sea again at the start of June. Detachments from 881 were operated from HMS FURIOUS during this period.

HMS PURSUER put to sea on June 2nd 1944 embarking both her squadrons from RNAS Burscough to prepare for operations in the western approaches as part of the cover forces for NEPTUNE operations. PURSUER was employed with TRACKER and EMPEROR in a position 150 miles west of Lands' End to carry out anti-submarine patrols to intercept U-Boat attempting to enter the English Channel for attacks on invasion traffic. The 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 9th, 11th, 14th, and 15th Escort Groups were also deployed in this area to provide additional support.

On June 5th all available hands were employed to paint all the aircraft with the black and white "Bumble Bee" invasion stripes that all allied aircraft were to wear for the invasion. On June 8th 896 squadron lost another pilot; Sub-Lt. JM Barber was killed when his aircraft, JV541 crashed into the sea after an accelerated take off.

There were few contacts to investigate during this operation but one enemy aircraft was intercepted and destroyed; at 18:35 on June 9th Lt AC Martin RNZNVR and Sub-Lt. D Symons RNVR of 896 squadron attacked and shot down a Ju88 at 49° 4'N, 7° 58'W. PURSUER was released from NEPTUNE operations on June 11th and on arriving back on the Clyde on the 12th was allocated for operations with the Mediterranean fleet.


HMS PRETORIA CASTLE


Trials and training.

HMS PUNCHER

On March 4th [1945] PUNCHER was visited by two of the Royal Navy's first helicopters in squadron service, Hoverfly FT836 ('A') and KK971 ('G') from 771 Squadron at RN Air Station Twatt, these two machines had been fitted with floats for trials with HMS Furious. KK971 ('G') suffered an engine fire we at 1shortly after two machines departed from PUNCHER, the pilot, S/Lt. Gray made a heavy water landing but the aircraft sank in Scapa Flow despite being fitted with floatation pontoons. This machine had earlier given a short flight to PUNCHER's Commander (Flying) Lt. Cdr Godfrey.

Operation "PREFIX": A further anti-shipping strike in Norwegian waters was undertaken by a Force Two, this time comprising the Cruisers BELLONA and DIDO, CVEs PUNCHER, SEARCHER, NAIRANA, and QUEEN and an escort of RN destroyers ONSLOW, SERAPIS, CARYSFORT and ZEALOUS, RCN destroyers HAIDA and IROQUOIS, sailing on March 24th. Although the weather was still not very co-operative a strike was flown off from SEARCHER and QUEEN on the morning-of the 26th to attack shipping in Trondheim Leads and North Kristiansand. As they approached the coastline at 300 feet, conditions were better and two ships were attacked. Two flights of Wildcats engaged eight or ten Messerschmitt fighters shooting down three and damaged two others. The Avengers in the strike package found no suitable targets so they had to jettison their bombs and return to the fleet. One of PUNCHER's Barracudas, MD837, failed to return from an A/S patrol, the crew Lt GF Cornish, S/Lt EJ Tracey & PO AG Sumner were all killed.

HMS QUEEN

After completing sea trials Queen sailed for Vancouver, British Colombia, entering Burrard Drydock at Vancouver to begin modification to bring equipment to RN standards and to outfit her as a strike/CAP carrier. On completion she sailed for the Panama Canal, stopping over in Miami for two weeks before sailing on to Norfolk, Virginia. On May 6th 1944 she embarked the 12 Avenger II aircraft of 855 squadron for passage from Norfolk to the UK. The squadron was disembarked to RAF Hawkinge on May 31st. HMS Queen served as an escort for Russia convoys late in the war; took part in strike on German shipping in Norway 5/1945. Also operated as a transport carrier.

HMS RAJAH


Ferry and trooping duties.

HMS REAPER


Ferry and later BPF duties

HMS RULER


HMS Ruler arrived in Australia in mid-March, disembarking both squadrons to RNAS Schofields, New South Wales, 1772 on the 18th and 885 following them on the 20th. Ruler re-embarked 885 on April 14th and proceeded to Manus, Admiralty Islands, disembarking the aircraft to RNAS Ponam on April 31st., Rulers first operation was as CAP carrier for operations between May 6th and 27th, sailing from the forward area at Leyte, the Philippines on May 3rd. After four replenishment sessions with Task Force 57 she returned to Leyte with her escort HMS Quilliam, arriving at Leyte on May 27th before continuing on to Sydney where she arrived on June 5th..

Her second operational period was June 14th - 15th as part of operation 'INMATE' this time acting as a 'spare deck'. For this operation she carried a single Air Sea Rescue Walrus of 1701 squadron, but this aircraft was lost when it was blown overboard in a sudden squall. Ruler briefly re-embarked 885 on June 17th before a detachment of 12 returning to Ponam on the 19th. Ruler continued to operate the reduced squadron whilst operating as a replenishment carrier beginning on July 17th through to August 15th when hostilities ceased. Her main task was the periodic replenishment of airframes to the carriers operating strikes against the Japanese mainland, operating between Leyte, in the Philippines and the replenishment area south of Japan. 885 squadron parted company with Ruler on September 5th, joining the Fleet Carrier Indefatigable which was withdrawing to Australia.

HMS Ruler entered Tokyo Bay on August 31st with elements of the US and British fleets in preparation for the signing of the Japanese surrender which was signed on September 2nd. Ruler departed Tokyo Bay on September 13th bound for Sydney, carrying ex-POWs, After unloading at Sydney and loading personnel and stores she sailed for the UK on October 22nd.

 

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HMS SEARCHER

Nothing on that site, but Wikipedia says:
From 1943 Searcher operated mainly around the UK as a Fighter Carrier. In late December 1943 she provided Atlantic convoy escort, escorting ships to the US, and arriving at Norfolk on 2 January 1944. She participated in the attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz as part of the Home Fleet Strike force of Operation Tungsten, during which her role was to provide fighter cover. In August 1944 she took part in Operation Dragoon, the Allied invasion of Southern France.

On 4 May 1945 aircraft from the escort carriers Searcher, Queen, and Trumpeter, taking part in Operation Judgement, sank the German submarine U-711 in Kilbotn harbour in the Arctic near Harstad, Norway.[2] Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bombers escorted by Grumman F4F Wildcat fighters attacked the U-boat crew barracks ship MS Black Watch, the submarine tender MS Senja and the floating flak battery Thetis (the former Norwegian coastal defence ship HNoMS Harald Haarfagre). U-711 was alongside Black Watch when she was sunk in position 68°43.717′N 16°34.600′E by bombs aimed at Black Watch. Black Watch and Senja were also sunk. This was the last sinking of a U-Boat by the Fleet Air Arm, and the final air-raid of the war in Europe.


HMS SHAH

HMS SHAH was employed on ferry duties again on April 26th 1944, leaving her squadron ashore in Ceylon she sailed for Bombay, arriving there on the 30th. On her return to Colombo her squadron was re-embarked on May 13th from RNAS Katukurunda equipped with 12 Avengers and a fighter flight of 6 Wildcats which had been added to form a composite trade protection squadron. After further working up HMS SHAH arrived in Trincomalee on June 16th 1944 and was allocated to anti submarine duties, sailing on her first A/S patrol in the Indian Ocean, east of Trincomalee the following day. The CVEs of the Eastern Fleet had were employed as hunter/killers from the spring of 1944 since close escorting of convoys was ineffective due to U-Boat commanders targeting vessels not sailing in convoy. Many of these anti submarine sweeps were conducted off the Seychelles; HMS SHAH operated with her sister ship HMS BEGUM on several of these A/S sweeps.

On completion of this sweep SHAH preceded to Colombo, arriving there on June 30th; after a short turnaround SHAH put back to sea on July 5th for trade protection sweeps between Colombo and Cochin. During this patrol 851 Squadron suffered another serious incident on the 28th when Avenger JZ119 stalled after being waved off by the DLCO and crashed onto the quarterdeck, her petrol tanks exploded on impact killing the observer Sub Lt JHW Calder, the pilot Sub Lt RA McCartney RNZN and the Telegraphist Air Gunner Leading Airman A Kane escaped. At the end of July SHAH was allocated to join Task Force 66, a trade protection force for operations in the northern Indian Ocean. TF66 comprised of CVEs SHAH and BEGUM, Frigates FINDHORN, INVER, LOSSIE and PARRET, Indian Sloops GODAVERI, and SUTLEJ.

During their last sweep in early August TF66 was looking for a U-Boat, U-198, that had been attacking shipping of the East African coast; on August 6th the MV EMPIRE CITY, a 7,295-ton cargo vessel was torpedoed and sunk east of Mocimboa, Portuguese East Africa. The following day the MV EMPIRE DAY a 7,242 ton cargo vessel was torpedoed and sunk about 200 miles east of Dar es Salaam. Both vessels were en route from Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, to Aden & Port Said with a cargo of coal sailing with convoy DKA-21 which scattered dispersed after the initial attack. On August 10th Avengers from SHAH spotted German submarine U-198 near the Seychelles; one of 851 squadrons aircraft Avenger JZ123 stalled and ditched alongside SHAH, the crew was rescued by the plane guard. On the 12th Avengers from SHAH's 851 and BEGUM's 832 squadrons attacked U-198 but reported no damage seen. They then directed the frigate HMS FINDHORN and the Indian sloop HMIS GODAVARI to its location, the U-Boat was later sunk by 'hedgehog' attacks.
HMS SLINGER

On January 11th 1945 Slinger and CVEs Khedive and Speaker together with a destroyer escort of Volage, Venus, Eskimo, Wolverine and Whitehall sailed from the Clyde bound for Gibraltar on the first leg of the voyage to join the BPF in Australia, under command of Captain B. L. Moore, (Speaker) Senior Officer. The group of ships called at Gibraltar on the 16th, then set course for Malta. The next day both Speaker and Slinger flew off aircraft armed with rocket projectiles to search for a U-boat reported off the North African coast. The small convoy entered Valletta Harbour on the 19th before arriving at Alexandria on January 22nd, entering the Suez Canal on the 24th for transit to the Red Sea. After a brief stop at Aden to refuel and store ship on January 28th the convoy steamed straight across the Indian Ocean to Ceylon, arriving at Colombo on February 4th.


HMS SMITER

Ferry duties and Far East 'air train'.

HMS SPEAKER

On January 11th 1945 SPEAKER, in company with the CVEs KHEDIVE and SLINGER (under command of Captain B. L. Moore, Senior Officer) and three escorts sailed from the Clyde bound for Alexandria on the first leg of passage to Australia. The group of ships reached Alexandria on January 22nd, and entered the Suez Canal on the 24th for transit to the Red Sea.

Intensive flying operations had been undertaken during the passage across the Mediterranean, which allowed the squadron more practice since the usual six week squadron work up had not been possible before the ship's departure from the UK. Little was achieved before passing Gibraltar as weather conditions prevented safe flying.

On January 11th 1945 SPEAKER, in company with the CVEs KHEDIVE and SLINGER (under command of Captain B. L. Moore, Senior Officer) and three escorts sailed from the Clyde bound for Alexandria on the first leg of passage to Australia. The group of ships reached Alexandria on January 22nd, and entered the Suez Canal on the 24th for transit to the Red Sea.

Intensive flying operations had been undertaken during the passage across the Mediterranean, which allowed the squadron more practice since the usual six week squadron work up had not been possible before the ship's departure from the UK. Little was achieved before passing Gibraltar as weather conditions prevented safe flying. Some operational sorties were flown on January 17th by aircraft from SPEAKER and SLINGER to search for a U-boat reported off the North African coast and this would have been an opportunity for the use of the new rocket equipped aircraft; nothing was found however and flying reverted to training sorties (KHEDIVE could not launch aircraft as her flight deck was covered with a ferry load of airframes for delivery to Ceylon).


HMS STALKER

On September 1st 1943 HMS Stalker became a part of Force V, the covering force for the allied invasion of Salerno Italy in operation 'AVALANCHE' which saw operations between September 9 - 12th. Stalker operated in company with the assault CVEs Attacker, Hunter and Battler and the maintenance carrier Unicorn making a rare operational contribution. It was intended that a constant presence of naval air cover would be maintained over the landing sites, up to 20 aircraft aloft at a time. The attrition rate was high, and the CVEs required addition aircraft to be transferred from the Fleet Carriers of Force H to continue operations at this level ( nearly out of aircraft itself by now, Forer H withdrew to Malta on the 11th.). Once the sir field at Paestum was under Allied control as many serviceable fighters as could be mustered were put ashore to operate from there. Stalker could only manage 2 serviceable Seafires to disembark on the morning of September 12th After disembarking fighters the force withdrew to Palermo to replenish. Force V disbanded on the 20th if September, the CVEs returning to the UK to refit and allow squadrons the opportunity to receive replacement aircraft and aircrews.

Between August 15th - 27th 1944 HMS Stalker joined eight other CVEs in Task Group 88 as part the covering force for the allied invasion of Southern France, operation 'DRAGOON'. Attacker, Emperor, Khedive, Pursuer and Searcher forming Task Group 88.1 While Hunter, Stalker, and two US CVEs, Tulagi and Kasaan Bay formed Task group 88.2. Stalker had embarked 800 squadron with 23 Hellcat Is, and 1 Walrus of 700 Squadron for Air Sea Rescue duties.

HMS STRIKER

The ship sailed from the Clyde on December 15th 1943 to join the 1st Escort Group on convoy protection duties in the Atlantic. She covered the passage of the out-bound combined convoy OS62/KMS36 between the 16th and 28th of December on passage from Liverpool bound for Freetown and Gibraltar. Although 824 squadron was an experienced unit the weather in the South-West Approaches and the Atlantic made flying challenging:; during her first convoy escort sortie the squadron had three landing accidents involving Swordfish; on the 20th LS319 piloted by Sub-Lt W.A. Penlington RNVR, bounced on landing, missing all the arrestor wires he opened the throttle and attempted to climb away but hit the ship's radar aerials and crashed into the sea. The crew was safely rescued. Sub-Lt S.W. Taylor RNVR made a heavy landing on a pitching and rolling deck on Christmas Eve, the undercarriage collapsed and the propeller hit the deck. Sub-Lt J.C.H. Simpson RNVR also made a heavy landing on the 26th when he broke the tail wheel of LS461.

At dusk on December 28th STRIKER was detached from the convoy to rendezvous with the in-bound convoy SL143; she was escorted by the Royal Indian Navy Sloops HMIS CAUVERY & KISTMA, they re-joined OS62/KMS36 once STRIKER made contact with SL143 at 1200 on the 29th. It was the turn of the fighter pilots to suffer damage landing on New Year's Eve, Sea Hurricane NF699 floated into the barrier, causing damage to the propeller, undercarriage & engine; this machine was piloted by Sub-Lt P.A. Clarke RNVR but was usually the personal aircraft of Major V.B.G. Cheesman Royal Marines and bore the name LIBBY on the engine cowling. Major Cheesman also suffered a barrier crash on the same day, flying in Sea Hurricane NF694 ('U'), he floated into the barrier, causing damage to the propeller.

On January 1st 1944 STRIKER switched to cover the out-bound convoys OS63/KMS37, remaining with them until the 7th. On that date she joined the in-bound SL144, providing fighter and anti-submarine cover until January 15th.
During this period only one Sea Hurricane had a barrier crash while another engaged the enemy; Lt C.J. Allen RNZNVR on returning from a fighter patrol in JS333 ('S') on the 7th could not lower his arrester hook and broke through no.1 barrier on landing before being stopped by no.2 barrier.
At 1300 on the 9th Sub-Lt I.W. Hayes RNVR in Sea Hurricane NF670 ('Q') attacked a Ju290 which was shadowing the convoy, it dived away but he could not pursue as his aircraft began vibrating due to a detached fuselage panel so was forced to return to the ship.

On March 10th STRIKER was detached with the Frigate BAYNTON and Corvette CLOVER to conduct air attacks on U575 which at 0154 had torpedoed and sunk the Corvette ASPHODEL west-northwest of Cape Finisterre. She was part of escort for joint inward convoy SL150/MKS41 which was passing through the same area. Only five survivors out of ASPHODELs crew of 97 were picked up by CLOVER. After the attack the U-boat was hunted for 18 hours but managed to escape. On leaving OS70/KMS44 STRIKER switched to cover Convoy KMS44G and escorted it into Gibraltar arriving there on March 17th.

She was also involved in Arctic Convoys.

HMS THANE

Aircraft ferry duties.
 

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HMS TRACKER

Outfitted as an ASW carrier H.M.S. Tracker carried out twelve convoy escort runs on transatlantic, Russian and Gibraltar routes between September 1943 and November 1944. On September 27th Tracker, having been at sea for four days with Canadian Escort Group 4 (E.G. 4) on her first operational voyage, was switched to join Captain Walker's E.G. 2 and provide air cover for the west bound convoy HX258 Liverpool to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

One weeks leave per watch was announced two days later, as the ship took a short breather before switching convoy routes for her next trip; Tracker left the Clyde on the 25th [March 1944] for Loch Ewe were the convoy was assembling. Tracker escorted the round trip convoys JW/RA58 to Murmansk, Northern Russia in company with HMS Activity; part of the out bound convoy was the USS MILWAUKEE being delivered to the Russian Navy, under Lend-lease agreements. Tracker re-embarked 846 squadron for this trip, operating 12 Avengers and 7 Wildcats, the later disposed of a FW 200 on 31st March.
Together with 8819 squadrons Wildcats on board Activity they destroyed 6 German reconnaissance planes, Her aircraft assisted in sinking the German submarine U288 on 3 April 1944; U-288 was sunk in the Barents Sea south-east of Bear Island, Norway, in position 73.44N, 27.12E, by depth charges and rocket attacks by Swordfish of Activity's 819 Sqdn and Avengers & Wildcats of 846 Sqdn from HMS Tracker. She also participated in sinking U-355 and damaging U-362, U-673 & U-990. The destruction of the six aircraft made it impossible for the submarines to receive accurate position information about the convoy's whereabouts and scuppered a carefully laid trap.

HMS TROUNCER

Convoy escort - ASW.

HMS TRUMPETER

Outfitted as an Anti Submarine Warfare carrier, Trumpeter's first operations, in late 1943 and early 1944, were ferrying aircraft and escorting North Atlantic convoys from New York to the Clyde. In the summer of 1944 she was allocated to the Home Fleet and assigned 846 naval air squadron, equipped with Avenger and Wildcat aircraft for offensive operations.

Between August and December 1944 she took part in a series of offensive operations against enemy shipping in the North Sea and against enemy occupied Norway including Operation' Goodwood', the naval sir attacks on the German battleship Tirpitz.

In early 1945 she undertook escort duties with Russian convoys before being returned to anti-shipping operations in the North Sea. Trumpeter was to take part in the last air strike of the European War on May 4th;
her aircraft shared the sinking of the German Submarine U711 with aircraft from HMS Queen. Trumpeter was next tasked with providing air cover for the Allied liberation of Denmark.

HMS VINDEX

From Wikipedia: index was commissioned in December 1943, and moved to Gourock for working up.[9] By this stage of the war, the Royal Navy had enough escort carriers available not only to double them up on a convoy escort but to permanently detach one to work with a "hunter killer group" operating outside the convoy system. The 2nd Escort Group still under the command of Captain Frederic John Walker was the group chosen with Vindex as the carrier. As she would not be supported by another carrier Vindex's air group was formed from the experienced 825 Naval Air Squadron, with a complement of 12 Fairey Swordfish Mk IIs and six Sea Hurricanes IICs. Even though there were 12 Swordfish on board they had only eight crews so the Sea Hurricanes carried out some of the daylight anti-submarine patrols. The Sea Hurricanes had been fitted with four racks for the same RP-3 rockets used by the Swordfish to attack submarines.[10]

Leaving Lough Foyle in Northern Ireland on 9 March 1944, the 2nd Escort Group moved to the area believed to hold the highest concentration of U-boats. On the night of 12 March, Swordfish on patrol had 28 contacts on their air to surface vessel radar (ASV). Their first attack was unsuccessful: two depth charges were dropped that failed to explode (believed to be caused by faulty safety clips) and during the attack the rear gunner in the Swordfish was killed by the U-boats anti-aircraft guns. The depth charges were dropped short on a second attack and failed to explode on a third attack during the same night.[11] On the night of 15 March, two Swordfish got an ASV contact ahead of the escort group. Unable to see anything in the darkness, they dropped flares and sea markers over the location. When the escort group arrived they picked up a contact on their ASDIC and the U-653 was sunk. Weather conditions were still not good for flying, and in the following days a Swordfish returning from a night patrol landed in the sea alongside the carrier and the crew were reported missing, believed killed. A pitching deck caused one Swordfish to crash into the sea on take-off and engine failure caused the crash of another Swordfish. One Swordfish clipped the island superstructure, losing 4 ft (1.2 m) off both wing tips when taking off. The pilot managed to get the aircraft into the air, circled around while jettisoning his depth charges, and landed again without mishap. Landing on the heaving deck was just as dangerous as taking off: two Sea Hurricanes and two Swordfish missed the arrestor wires and ended up crashing into the safety barriers.[12]

On 24 March, with its engine shot up and crew injured, a Swordfish attempted to land on Vindex. It crash landed on the flight deck, coming to a stop 8 ft (2.4 m) from the end of the flight deck. Leaking petrol set the wreckage on fire, the crew were rescued, but the fire exploded one of two depth charges stuck on their racks, blowing a 8 ft × 4 ft (2.4 m × 1.2 m) hole in the flight deck. After 16 days at sea, Vindex returned to port. With two days flying lost because of the weather conditions, the Swordfish had amassed a creditable 275 flying hours and 122 deck landings by day and night. The Sea Hurricanes contributed another 47 hours flying and 39 deck landings.

At the end of April 1944, Vindex joined the 5th Escort Group. On 6 May, a patrolling Swordfish was contacted by two of the escort frigates reporting they were in contact with a submerged U-boat. The frigates carried out a depth charge attack and forced U-765 to the surface. Despite anti-aircraft fire from the U-boat, the Swordfish dropped two of its depth charges which broke the submarine in half] Flying became dangerous in the heavy seas and poor visibility. One Sea Hurricane was damaged beyond repair after a serious crash into the safety barrier and another crashed into the sea with the loss of the pilot. The Swordfish crews fared little better three aircraft and one crew were lost during the same period. On 9 May, Vindex's aircraft lift broke down with a burnt out motor, the crew had to resort to manually cranking the lift up or down taking an hour to go each way. They eventually repaired the lift by moving the capstan motor through holes burned into the bulkheads.[ During the second deployment by Vindex her aircraft had flown over 400 sorties in 13 days, but the strain on the aircrews began to show and only 35 per cent of the original Swordfish crews were still with the ship when they returned to port. It was during this second deployment that one of the ships officers, Sub-Lieutenant J.M. Morrison invented a blind landing system soon to be used on all the Royal Navy carriers. He modified an ASV radar set which was placed on the flight deck. The system employed the Air Directing Officer guiding aircraft to within 5 mi (4.3 nmi; 8.0 km) of the ship. They could then be picked up on the ASV and brought in astern of the carrier at a height of 75 ft (23 m).[16]

On 15 August, Vindex and Striker joined convoy JW 59 the first Arctic convoy to Russia of the year. Vindex still had 825 Naval Air Squadron on board but they were now equipped with the Swordfish Mk III. This version of the biplane had a Rocket-assisted take off system (RATOG) and a new ASV radar in a dome on the underside of the aircraft. The extra weight reduced the crew to two, doing away with the Telegraphist-Air-Gunner. There was a full complement of 12 Swordfish and eight Sea Hurricanes (two unassembled spares) on board. The larger Striker had 12 Swordfish and 12 Grumman Wildcats. The Swordfish claimed their first success on 22 August, sinking U-344, followed by U-354 on 24 August.[17] Her rocket armed Sea Hurricanes also claimed a U-boat damaged. Neither convoy JW 59 or the returning RA 59A lost any ships.

Russian convoy JW 61 which sailed on 20 October had for the first time three escort carriers, Vindex, Nairana and Tracker. This was a large convoy of 62 merchant ships with a large escort group. Vice-Admiral Frederick Dalrymple-Hamilton was in command, with Vindex as his flagship. Nairana had 835 Naval Air Squadron with 14 Swordfish IIIs and six Wildcat VIs on board for what would be their first Arctic convoy. Vindex had a re-formed 811 Naval Air Squadron with the same aircraft types and numbers. The third carrier—Tracker—had 10 Grumman Avengers and six Wildcats. The short Arctic days meant that most flying would be at night. The three carriers worked a system eight hour watches, one would be the duty carrier with its aircraft aloft, the second would be on standby with its aircraft arranged on deck ready to scramble and the third resting. The two Swordfish equipped squadrons because of their better night flying equipment shared the night time hours while Tracker's Avengers worked the daylight hours The strength of the convoys escort may have deterred the Germans and no U-boats or reconnaissance aircraft were detected, until the convoy approached the Kola Inlet, even then the heavy escort prevented any attack and the convoy reached port safely.

The return convoy RA 61 was equally as successful with only one frigate damaged by a torpedo just after leaving Kola and Vindex had to take avoiding action after detecting a torpedo coming towards her.[20] Vindex's inexperienced squadron lost a Wildcat pilot when his plane crashed into the sea attempting to land back on board. A Swordfish crashed into the sea following a rocket assisted take off with the loss of the two man crew. Another Swordfish crashed on landing with the aircraft initially hung over the ship's side from its tail hook. When the hook gave way it crashed into the sea and only the pilot was rescued. The squadron in total lost or so severely damaged eight Swordfish and two Wildcats that they could not fly again.[21] From March to August 1945 the ship was part of the British Pacific Fleet attached to the 30th Aircraft Carrier Squadron.


Conclusions:

1. The escort carrier did make a difference - particularly in the Arctic
2. Their aircraft shot down enemy aircraft, sank U boats and enemy ships and hit targets ashore
3. HM Ships Audacity, Archer, Avenger, Biter, and Dasher took part in Atlantic operations prior to 31 May 1943 (when the Wolfpacks were withdraw by Donitz).​
 
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The RAF and Air Ministry would have been familiar with the .50 from other aircraft such as the P-36 and P-40 and mass producing it would have required about as much engineering and industrial effort as making the .303 machine gun. The technical knowledge to fit it into the Hurricane would surely have been in Hawker's hands. I doubt if Fairey wouldn't have spoken to Hawker about it, as setting up for and completing the task to have them in the air by May 1940 was probably started in 1939. I believe that consideration to fitting cannon to future fighters was already in the thoughts of the Ministry/industry/RAF even as far back as 1937.
I can see the argument that stopping .303 Browning production to start .50 Browning production would have been seen to stop the flow of guns needed at a critical time. And mind it is not just guns

It's mounting points, flex chutes, feedways, firing solenoids, ammo racking, charging and heating systems
 
It was called the "Dowding spread" and was supposed to create the aerial equivalent of a beaten zone for a bomber to fly through, but the vibration of the firing guns effectively cause that anyway so a more focused aiming of the guns was more effective. The Dowding spread was meant to be used with such tactics as "Fighter Attack Number 1", which was basically a curve of pursuit attack, firing all the time, so that the bomber was always under fire for several seconds. This type of attack was only usable if there was no fighter opposition and if the enemy gunner was not paying attention. .............................. The Poles and French had learned the hard way that a Dornier or Heinkel wasn't going to be brought down without a well aimed sustained burst, especially if the defensive gunners were doing their job. With regard to the Hurricane and other fabric covered fighters, when a 20mm shell struck the fabric, it usually punched through with exploding until it hit the structure underneath. In some cases, it simply passed through the aircraft without exploding or doing serious damage. That's why you see pictures of aircraft back at base with shredded fabric hanging off them.
Wasn't the Dowding Spread also supposed to be used at flight level? in other words an echelon of Hurricane or Spits basically online all firing at once not a single aircraft?
 

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