Modification to RN Standards at Liverpool
HMS Battler in Grand Harbour Malta, September 1943 with a deck full of Seafire L.IIcs belonging to 807 and 808 squadrons during Operation AVALANCHE Photo: Author's collection
HMS BATTLER’s next operational tour was to be in the Mediterranean, on July 30th BATTLER re-embarked 808 squadron’s 9 Seafires, and after storing ship and loading stores and passengers BATTLER, in company with her sister CVEs ATTACKER, HUNTER, and STALKER sailed from the Clyde at 14:00 hours on August 2nd bound for Gibraltar. The four carriers and their escorts ran into a terrible storm in the Bay of Biscay which lasted thought the 3rd and into the 4th; the seas were so rough the ships had to heave to ride it out. All four carriers suffered storm damage and many aircraft were badly damaged, HUNTER suffered the worst of the damage and was forced leave the convoy to return to the UK. The remaining three carriers arrived at Gibraltar, at 18:00 hours on the 9th. On August 14th she embarked a further 9 Seafires when 807 squadron from RN Air Section North Front came aboard; one of these Seafires had to make a forced landing in the sea killing the Free French Navy pilot Lt. P. Bergerot FFN.
On September 1st 1943 BATTLER became a part of Task Force 88, a part of Force 'V', the covering force for the allied invasion of Salerno Italy in operation AVALANCHE planned for operations between September 9 - 12th. Task Force 88 comprised HM Escort Aircraft Carriers ATTACKER, BATTLER, HUNTER, STALKER and the maintenance carrier UNICORN (making a rare operational contribution), Cruisers EURYALUS [flagship], SCYLLA and CHARYBDIS, Destroyers CLEVELAND, HOLCOMBE, ATHERSTONE, LIDDESDALE, FARNDALE, CALPE, and Polish destroyers ORP SLAZAK and ORP KRAKOWIAK.
A second force, Force H comprised the Battleships NELSON, RODNEY, WARSPITE and VALIANT, Fleet Carriers ILLUSTRIOUS and FORMIDABLE and a screen of 21 destroyers including French, Polish and Greek warships was a covering force for the landings, intended to prevent any interference by Italian surface warships. On the eve of operation AVALANCHE Italy surrendered so the threat had passed, however there was a strong German force in the area.
By September 5th BATTLER was at Malta with the other ships of Force ‘V’. On September 7th, just prior to the beginning of AVALANCHE operations BATTLER embarked 834 squadron’s 3 Swordfish II & 6 Seafire L.IIc, which transferred from HMS HUNTER. Six of 834 squadron’s Swordfish operated from North Front providing anti-submarine patrols as 834 ‘Z’ flight between September 9th and October 1st. Task Force 88 sailed from Malta on 8th September 1943, arriving on station 45 miles south-west of the beachhead on the early morning of the 9th. Each CVE in Task Force 88 carried 2 Seafire squadrons, UNICORN 3, making a total of 109 aircraft in 11 squadrons.
The five carriers were to provide fighter cover for the landings. 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 first flights were launched at dawn on the 9th. It had been envisaged that one or more enemy airfields would be in allied hands by the end of the first day and so shore based air cover would take over, this was not the case; it was not until the third day that this became possible. At this time none of the CVEs were equipped as fighter or assault carriers so fighter direction was provided by the Fighter Direction Ship HMS ULSTER QUEEN.
The attrition rate was high, and the CVEs required additional aircraft to be transferred from the Fleet Carriers of Force H in order to continue operations at this level (Force H withdrew to Malta on the 11th, being nearly out of aircraft itself by this time). Once the airfield at Paestum was under Allied control as many serviceable fighters as could be mustered were put ashore to operate from there. BATTLER could only manage 5 serviceable Seafires to disembark out of 18 embarked on the morning of September 12th; ATTACKER managed 4, HUNTER 5, and STALKER only 2, UNICORN supplied 10. After disembarking these fighters the force withdrew to Palermo, Sicily to replenish. During the four days on station the carriers, which all flew Seafires, launched a combined total of 713 sorties, providing more than half the allied air coverage over the beach head. No RN aircraft were lost to enemy action but 4 were lost through engine failure and 32 were written off in deck landing accidents. The carriers were back on station by the 16th and the detached aircraft were recovered. On the 17th 808 squadron transferred to HMS HUNTER, while the detached aircraft of 807 re-joined the ship.
Force V disbanded on the 20th of September, ATTACKER, HUNTER, and STALKER returned to the UK to refit and allow squadrons the opportunity to receive replacement aircraft and aircrews. BATTLER however proceeded to Gibraltar where 834Z flight embarked bringing the squadron strength to 9 Swordfish and 6 Seafires . She had been assigned to the Eastern Fleet for duties as a trade protection carrier; she was initially to operate out of Bombay covering Aden to Bombay convoys. [It appears likely that 807 squadron transferred to HMS HUNTER and sailed for the UK with her on September 30th, since the squadron disembarked to RNAS Burscough on October 9th]
BATTLER with 834 embarked joined the Fast Convoy K.M.F. 24 off Gibraltar on the September 22nd for passage to Port Said, sailing in company with H.M.S. CARLISLE, ALDENHAM, ROCKWOOD, BELVOIR, H.H.M.S. KANARIS, MIALOULIS, and THEMISTOCKLES. H.M.S. CARLISLE, BELVOIR, and H.H.M.S. KANARIS detached to Alexandria. She arrived at Part Said on September 28th, and after passage through the Suez Canal arrived at Suez. Sailed for Aden on October 1st escorted by LANDGUARD and SENNEN arriving Aden on October 4th where was taken in hand for a 12 day boiler clean. 834 squadron was disembarked to Rbiyan, near Lurkulla, to conduct anti-submarine sweeps from October 3rd - 17th.
Battler sailed on October 17th in company with her escorts ROTHERHAM, QUIBERON, and QUALITY to join her first convoy, A.B.17, re-embarking her squadron to continue A/S sweeps. BATTLER arrived at Bombay on October 26th 1943. On November 4th BATTLER, QUIBERON and QUALITY left Bombay to rendezvous with LST Convoy A.B. 18 A and escort it back to Bombay; screened by ROTHERHAM, NORMAN, and NEPAL she provided A/S air cover for the convoy between November 7th and 9th.
BATTLER, NAPIER, ROTHERHAM and NEPAL left Bombay November 11th to rendezvous with the fast troopship section of convoy A.B. 20 provided ocean and A/S air escort to Bombay between November 14th and 17th. A detachment of 4 of 834 squadron’s Seafires was put ashore to operate out of RAF Santa Cruz, India between November 17th and December 26th.
The next convoy to cover was inbound from Aden to Bombay and BATTLER, ROTHERHAM, NEPAL and PLYM sailed on December 12th to take over the escort of convoy A.B. 24 at a pore arranged mid-ocean meeting point on the 15th. The convoy and escort force split off into three sections destined for Bombay, Trincomalee and Durban; BATTLER, ROTHERHAM, ROEBUCK, KALE, DERG, RAPID and BOXER arrived at Bombay on December 19th. BATTLER sailed from Bombay to cover one final convoy on December 26th 1943, in company with ROTHERHAM, ROEBUCK, RAPID, KALE and DERG she rendezvoused with convoy A.B.27A on January 11th and escorted it to Bombay.
On handing off convoy A.B.27A BATTLER was detached to operate with ships of Force 62, HM Cruisers KENYA, NEWCASTLE and SUFFOLK, Armed Merchant Cruiser CANTON, Destroyer NEPAL (RAN) and HM Frigate BANN for Operation THWART, the search for a blockade runner, the U-Boat Supply Ship CHARLOTTE SCHLIEMANN in the area 900 miles SE of Mauritius. The main force sailed from Colombo on the 12th, BATTLER joining at Mauritius on January 16th. The force sailed on the 19th to begin the search but all returned to Mauritius on the 21st. A smaller force, Force 64 (KENYA, BATTLER and NEPAL) put to sea on the 23rd searched further to the SE but the operation was cancelled due to adverse weather after fruitless search on the 30th. All ships returned to Mauritius.
BATTLER and SUFFOLK proceeded to Durban
from Mauritius arriving there on February 4th. The aircraft of 834
squadron disembarked for a short spell ashore to
RN Air Section Stamford Hill, Durban, South Africa, re-embarking
them on the 13th. The ship appears to have had a remarkable flying
safety record, the next recorded incident was on February 23rd 1944
when Lt D.A.E. Holbrook made a heavy landing in Seafire LR702 ('Z')
causing the port undercarriage to collapse.
A Seafire L.II and Swordfish II form 834 squadron n in formation. Photo: courtesy Gary Evans.
BATTLER was back at Mauritius at the beginning of March where a force was assembled to search for another blockade runner, the U-Boat Supply Ship KMS BRAKE codename Operation COVERED. Again there were two small forces, Force 67 the Cruiser NEWCASTLE with the Destroyer ROEBUCK, and Force 68 the Cruiser SUFFOLK with the Destroyer QUADRANT. After seven days of searching Swordfish HS257 ('K') of 834, crewed by Lt F.A.J. Pennington RNZN, Lt G.M. Evans RNVR & PO .RH. Holmes located the BRAKE with 2 U-boats alongside on March 12th. BATTLER launched Swordfish armed with rocket projectiles to shadow the BRAKE and her charges, while ROEBUCK came in for an attack. The engagement saw the BRAKE was scuttled and one U-boat was damaged by rockets fired from circling Swordfish. The group withdrew to Mauritius, arriving there on the 16th, BATTLER proceed to Durban, South Africa for refit, arriving there on March 21st; 834 again disembarking to RN Air Section Stamford Hill.
Battler on ferry duties: the Seafires of 834 squadron are parked forward of the forward lift with the squadron's Swordfish parked aft of the lift, the remainder of the flight deck is covered with Hellcats as deck cargo. Photo: Author's collection.
On completion of her refit HMS BATTLER re-embarked the Swordfish element of 834 squadron on June 24th, the Seafires remaining at Stamford Hill, and sailed with the north bound convoy CM.55 from Durban to Kilindini on the 28th. She sailed From Kilindini on July 11th as escort for convoy KR11 to Colombo, arriving there on the 22nd. [Note: some commentators state she sailed with convoy CM53 but this departed from Durban on May 13th, 5 weeks before BATTLER re-embarked any aircraft.]
On July 25th 834 squadron flew ashore to RNAS Katukurunda where a new fighter flight of 6 Wildcat Vs awaited their arrival. This flight replaced the Seafires discarded at Durban and had formed at RNAS Puttalam on April 14th. In Early August the ship gave DLT to the pilots of 834 Wildcat flight; Lt B.N.A.D. Burne RNVR was killed on the 7th when his aircraft, JV484, suffered an undercarriage collapse during an accelerated take-off, the port wing struck a Bofors gun mount and the aircraft fell into the sea and sank, he was not recovered.
The squadron re-embarked on August 11th and carried out anti-submarine patrols in the Colombo area before moving to Addu Atoll, tin he Maldive Islands on the 22nd, to continue A/S patrols. This patrol period saw 4 Swordfish lost and 3 seriously damaged; on the 25th Sub-Lt. J McVittie RNVR in LSI85 ('M') made a heavy landing, undercarriage collapsed; on the 29th Lt. J.A. Robson RNZN in HS617 ('F') made a heavy landing, damaged port stub plane; September 1st Sub-Lt. G.E.H. Owen in LSI87 ('L') struck the rounddown, rose 20ft before crashing on dock; on the 2nd Sub-Lt. P.D.O. Liddell in LS440 ('C') made a heavy landing, starboard tyre burst causing oleo leg damage; on the 6th Sub-Lt. P.D.O. Liddell put the same aircraft into the barrier writing it off; also on the 6th Sub-Lt. J. McVittie in LS451 ('T') while attempted to go round again, hit Swordfish 'A' and dived into the sea, the pilot was recovered OK; on the same day Sub-Lt. J. McVittie is recorded as hitting another aircraft while flying in LSI85 ('M') and ditching, again OK; finally on the 8th Sub-Lt. G.E.H. Owen in LS346 ('G') overturned and aircraft sank in the sea, pilot recovered OK.
The Wildcats fared far better with only two incidents; on the 22nd Lt I.T. Dixon flying in JV514 had his arrester hook pulled out on the rounddown and crashed into the barrier, and on September 24th Sub-Lt. L.A. Baggott RNZN put JV561 into the barrier.
After completing her tour of A/S patrols BATTLER put 834 ashore to RNAS Coimbatore, Southern India, and September 19th where they received replacement aircraft and regroup; they flew to RNAS Cochin on the 27th and re-embarked in BATTLER on the 28th. BATTLER next proceeded to Trincomalee, disembarking the aircraft of 834 to RNAS Trincomalee on October 7th. Captain Stephenson bid farewell to HMS Battler on October 27th 1944, addressing the assembled ship's company on the flight deck before handing over command to Captain H. Norman RN.
It appears that BATTLER did a short spell as a Deck Landing Training carrier for the Avengers of 849 squadron while at Trincomalee, Avenger JZ422 is recorded as missing all the wires and entering the barrier on November 6th; the pilot Sub-Lt. J.I. Delany RNZN was unhurt.
On November 7th the squadron personnel of 834 and their aircraft were-embarked for ferrying to the military harbour at Adabiya on the Gulf of Suez; it had been planned that once released from Eastern Fleet duties BATTLER would return to the UK with 834 aboard, but this was changed at the start of November when she was redesignated as a ferry carrier. New orders were received to proceed to the military harbour at Adabiya on the Gulf of Suez, to meet up with the escort carrier HMS THANE. The ships arrived at Arabiya on November 21st and they began unloading; THANEs ferry load of Avenger and Hellcat aircraft was to be embarked in BATTLER for passage to Sydney; she would still be going home to the UK but via Australia. 834 and other materials for the UK were transferred to THANE (834 officially disbanded upon arrival in the UK on December 6th 1944).
BATTLER returned to Colombo and prepared for her ferry run. On December 9th 1944 BATTLER sailed in company with the CVE ATHELING, the cruiser HMNZS ACHILLES, Destroyers WAGER and WHELP for Australia, the following day they were joined by HMS SWIFTSURE (flagship of Rear-Admiral E. J. P. Brind, CB, CBE, commanding Fourth Cruiser Squadron) and their escort, the destroyers KEMPENFELT (Captain D, 4th Destroyer Flotilla), WESSEX, and WAKEFUL, to proceed in convoy to Australia. Most of the destroyers returned to Trincomalee on the 11th and on the 16th the cruisers SWIFTSURE and ACHILLES parted company with the carriers and went on ahead to Fremantle.
On her arrival in Sydney BATTLER
unloaded her ferry load and embarked stores and equipment for
passage to the UK. She sailed for the UK, crossing the Pacific to
the Panama Canal and Norfolk, Virginia. She reached Bilbao on
February 1st 1945 and departed Cristobal for Norfolk on the 3rd.
After embarking a ferry load at Norfolk Naval Operating Base she sailed for New York on Feb 13th 1945 to join convoy CU.59. At New York she was taken in hand by Bethlehem Steel CO. Staten Island for voyage repairs on the 17th, the work was completed early in the afternoon of the 19th. Convoy CU.59 sailed from New York later on the 19th and arrived at Liverpool on March 1st
Upon her arrival on the Clyde on March 5th 1945she was allocated to Western Approaches Command for duty as a deck landing training carrier. BATTLER received minor modifications for her new role in Belfast, beginning sea trials in the Belfast area from March 24th before taking up her new duties. She operated with aircraft from 768 squadron beginning on May 5th 1945; aircraft would fly out from RNAS Abbotsinch to the ship whilst steaming in the Firth of Clyde. There one incident during May, on the 11th Hellcat FN385 flown by Sub-Lt. J.E. Smart suffered an engine failure landing on and the tail wheel bit into the rounddown; on the 8th of June Corsair IT420 flown by Sub-Lt. T.C. Hood had port drift, ended up in port catwalk.
On June 4th BATTLER was re-allocated to Rosyth Command, still as a Deck Landing Training carrier Switching to the Firth of Forth, still training with 768 squadron and from October she began DLT duties with the aircraft of 731 and 767 Squadrons based at RNAS Easthaven; she continued in this role until January 8th 1946 when she arrived back at Greenock for de-storing in preparation for decommissioning.
BATTLER was removed from active service upon her arrival back at Greenock and work began to de-store her and remove Admiralty equipment in preparation for her return to US Navy custody under the terms of the Lend/Lease agreement.
HMS BATTLER left the Clyde on January
19th bound for the Norfolk Naval Dockyard, Virginia.
BAVG- 6 was returned to United States custody on February 12th 1946, and was struck from the US Navy list on March 28th 1946. She was sold on May 14th 1946 to the Patapsco Steel Scrap Co., Bethlehem, Pa., and subsequently scrapped.
Content revised: 11 June 2020
Sources used in compiling this account:
Click here for a list of Primary sources
Shaw, A. (2005) 'The upside of trouble' Lewes, The Book Guild
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries
Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries
Topic: A History of H.M.S. BATTLER
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