"Attack and destroy"
Atlantic 1943 - 4
South France 1944
Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Co.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton Washington
69 ft 6 in
Capt. T.J.N. Hilken RN
Sep 43 - Jan 45
Capt. Sir Charles E. Madden, Bt RN
Jan 45 - Feb 46
Dec 43-Sep 45
Dec 43-Jun 44
Jul -Oct 45
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A History of HMS EMPEROR
HMS EMPEROR during her work up off the U.S. coast.
Photo:: Jack Price (Via Carl Berrington).
Two US maritime Commission hulls were earmarked for transfer to
the Royal Navy as escort carriers with the ships' name 'EMPEROR':
On 19 April 1943, the keel was laid for a Casablanca
class auxiliary aircraft carrier at the Kaiser Shipyard, Vancouver,
Washington. She was w intended for transfer to the Royal Navy under
Lend-Lease arrangements as the HMS EMPEROR, however, the US Navy
decided that she (and other escort carriers building for Britain at that
time) would be required for the US war effort. Subsequently the
EMPEROR was renamed the USS NASSUK BAY on June 28th 1943,
and was launched October 6th 1943. Delivered to the U. S. Navy 6
November 1943, she was again renamed, commissioning as the USS
SOLOMONS November 21st 1943.
The second auxiliary aircraft carrier earmarked to be
named HMS EMPEROR began her carrier as the USS PYBUS (ACV-34), a
Bogue class escort carrier. Her keel being laid down 23 June 1942 at
Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp., Tacoma, Washington, Maritime
Commission C3 hull number 245, Seattle-Tacoma hull number 29;. She was
launched 7 October 1942, her hull being towed to the Puget Sound Navy
Yard, Washington for completion.
On completion she was commissioned into the US Navy
on May 31st 1943 and after working up she undertook a ferry voyage from
San Diego to Pearl Harbour. The USS PYBUS was then selected for transfer
to the UK under the lend-lease agreement that existed between the US and
Britain. ON her return from Pearl Harbour she passed through the Panama
Canal and steamed to Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York, where she was
de-commissioned on August 6th 1943 and transferred to the Royal Navy.
The ship was recommissioned as HMS EMPEROR (Pennant number D98) on the
same day, under the command of Captain Thomas J. N. Hilken RN.
[EMPEROR was originally to have been named
'STINGER' but the name was change before the ship was accepted by the
HMS EMPEROR during her Atlantic crossing from New York
to the Clude carrying a ferry load of Avenger aircraft .
Heavy U-Boat activity in the Atlantic forced the
convoy to make a more northerly track and the
ships encountered ice floe and snow. Photo:: Jack
Price (Via Carl Berrington)
While alongside in Brooklyn HMS EMPEROR embarked a
ferry cargo of aircraft for delivery to the UK; she was to sail with the
Liverpool bound convoy HX 253 departing from New York on August 20th to
make the Atlantic crossing.
Upon her arrival on the Clyde on September 3rd she
was allocated to Western Approaches Command. After unloading stores and
aircraft EMPEROR proceeded to Belfast where she entered a dockyard for
modification to RN standards on September 7th. This work was completed
by the beginning of December and the ship put to sea for a work-up in
the Irish Sea. Part of this work-up involved giving experience to the
ship's air departments when 800 and 804 Naval Air Squadrons (No. 7 Naval
Fighter Wing, equipped with Hellcats) embarked on December 5th; 800NAS
remained onboard for one weeks flying training, returning to RNAS
Eglinton, Northern Ireland, on the 11th.
On January 11th 1944 800 NAS re-embarked and the ship
sailed for Norfolk, Virginia (most probably escorting convoy ON 219
which departed Liverpool on January 8th for New York) where she arrived
on January 25th; both 800 and 804 Squadrons disembarked to US Naval Air
Station Norfolk until rejoining the ship on February 5th. From Norfolk
EMPEROR proceeded to Argentia, Newfoundland to join the east bound
convoy HX 278 which had departed from New York on the 5th for Liverpool
via Halifax; the convoy left Halifax on February 7th, EMPEROR left the
convoy off Ireland and preceded to the Clyde on the 18th, her squadrons
disembarking to RNAS Eglinton.
Action stations! Right: The bridge officers and
messengers closed up to with anti-flash gear and
hard hats. Left: One of EMPEROR's twin 40mm Bofors
mounts manned and ready for action. Photos:
Jack Price (Via Carl Berrington)
On March 6th 800 and 804 squadrons rejoined the ship
for passage to Scapa Flow, Orkney where she was allocated to the Home
Fleet on March 18th for operations off the coast of Norway.
Offensive operations April - June 1944
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.
Left: Armourers wait to load their ordinance onto
the aircraft for strikes against the TIRPITZ during
Operation "Tungsten". Right: Aircrew muster
before manning thier planes. Photos: Jack Price (Via
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.
Aerial photographs showing the results of bombing raids
made by aircraft from HMS EMPEROR and carriers of the
Home Fleet against the TIRPITZ during Operation
"Tungsten". Photos: Jack Price (Via Carl Berrington)
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.
Harsh weather conditions, crew members in the bow of HMS
EMPEROR somewhere in the North Sea.Photos: Jack Price
(Via Carl Berrington)
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.
A Hellcat fighter leave the deck of HMS EMPEROR while
another comes a cropper while landing on. Photos:
Jack Price (Via Carl Berrington)
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.
Offensive operations July - November 1944
HMS EMPEROR sailed for the Mediterranean on July 15th with 800 (Hellcat)
NAS and a single Walrus from 700 NAS for search and rescue duties
embarked. She was to become part of a group pf seven Royal Navy escort
carriers operating in the Mediterranean and the Aegean, these were
ATTACKER, EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE, PURSUER, SEARCHER, and STALKER.
EMPEROR's first offensive operations in this theatre
were as part of Operation "DRAGOON", the invasion of southern France
which commenced on August 12th. For this operation EMPEROR operated in
company with the CVEs ATTACKER, KHEDIVE, PURSUER and SEARCHER, as part
of Task Group 88.1; this task group was under Rear Admiral Sir Thomas
Troubridge in the cruiser ROYALIST. The CVEs HUNTER and STALKER joined
the USN escort CVEs TULAGI and KASAAN BAY in Task Group 88.2 under Rear
Admiral C T Durgin USN.
HMS EMPEROR follows her sister CVEs HM Ships KHEDIVE,
SEARCHER, PURSUER and ATTACKER, the carrier element of
ask Group 88.1 during Operation "Dragoon". Photo:
Jack Price (Via Carl Berrington)
Between the 15th and the 19th aircraft from EMPEROR
operated in support of the allied landings, withdrawing to Maddalena,
Sardinia for replenishment on the 20th. Sailing again on the 21st
Emperor's Hellcats carried out long ranging interdiction sorties up the
Rhone Valley and over much of southern France, withdrawing again to
Maddalena on the 24th after having flown 252 operational sorties for the
loss of 11 aircraft. 10 serviceable aircraft and 4 more that were
repairable were left on board. After replenishment EMPEROR departed for
Alexandria, where she arrived on September 2nd.
EMPEROR was in action again by September 14th, when
she began a series of strike operations in the Aegean in company with
HMS PURSUER, beginning with Operation "Outing I" which involved 24 armed
reconnaissance sorties near Milos, and attacking shore targets and
shipping; the force returned to Alexandria for replenishment on the
21st. Further strikes were made from September 30th under the code name
Operation "Outing II", This operation involved on the airfield at Maleme
in Crete as well as anti-shipping sweeps, before returning to
EMPEROR sailed again from Alexandria on October 8th,
this time in company with the cruiser ROYALIST, for further
anti-shipping operations. In addition an attack was made by dive-bombing
the Plimiri radar station on Rhodes, which was destroyed. EMPEROR and
ROYALIST returned to Alexandria on the 13th for a brief replenishment
before putting to sea again only a few hours later in company with the
CVEs ATTACKER and STALKER, and destroyers TROUBRIDGE, TERMAGANT, TYRIAN,
TUSCAN and GARLAND to begin Operation "Manna", a further series of
strikes in the Aegean, commencing in the area around the island of
Rhodes. On October 19th EMPEROR anchored off the island of Khios to
embark 113 German and Italian prisoners of war, while 8 of 800 squadrons
Hellcats dive-bombed and destroyed a radar station on Milos.
Left: August 1944 - Hellcats are ranged on deck
during operations during Operation "Dragoon" the
invasion of Southern France. The black and white stripes
are to identify the aircraft as 'friendly'.
Right: September 1944 - Hellcat 'W' on deck off the
Greek island of Leros Photos: Jack Price (Via Carl
Towards the end of October HMS EMPEROR began her
final operation in the Mediterranean theatre, Operation "Contempt" which
began on the 26th. EMPEROR's air group carried out strikes and
bombardment spotting for the Battleship HMS KING GEORGE V in preparation
for the allied occupation of Milos. In addition to her Hellcats EMPEROR
had embarked 1 Swordfish, for spotting duties, and a Walrus amphibian
for combat search and rescue. In the whole series of operations in the
Aegean, EMPEROR flew 455 sorties, more than double that achieved by any
other carrier. On completion of Operation "Contempt" EMPEROR withdrew to
Alexandria before she was ordered home to the UK for a refit in a
Newport dockyard. She sailed from Alexandria on November 20th and
arrived in Newport on the 29th.
Offensive operations 1945
While in the dockyard Captain Hilken left the ship for a new appointment
as Captain, of HMS BHERUNDA (RN Air Station, Colombo, Ceylon), his
replacement as commanding officer was Captain Sir Charles E. Madden, Bt
RN who assumed the post on Jan 17th 1945. With her refit completed,
EMPEROR was ready to re-embark 800 squadron for a short work-up period
on February 25th before being allocated to the 21st Aircraft Carrier
Squadron, part of the East Indies Fleet on March 1st, on which date she
sailed from Newport bound for Ceylon via the Suez Canal.
EMPEROR Arrived at Colombo on March 25th and began
working up with the fleet in preparation for her first operational
outing, Operation "Sunfish" which began on April 4th, when EMPEROR in
company with the CVE HMS KHEDIVE conducted a photographic reconnaissance
of Port Swettenham, Malaya and a strike on Emmahaven. This was followed
by Operation "Dracula" on April 21st which involved strikes on the
Rangoon and south-eastern Burmese coast, for this operation EMPEROR and
KHEDIVE were joined by the CVEs HUNTER and STALKER. During the later
part of operation 'Dracula'Â 800 squadron operated detachments from two
other CVEs, three aircraft operated from HMS KHEDIVE and eight flew from
HMS SHAH (operating with EMPRESS for operation 'bishop'Â between 11 -
19 May before rejoining EMPEROR.
Right: Captain T.J.N. Hilken DSO, with Gunnery Warrant Officer Frank Bulley inspects the landing
party assembled to go ashore to Chios in the Aegean to embark German prisoners of war. Left: Offloading an Avenger to the
quayside using the ship's own 'A' frame derrick.
Photos: Courtesy of Chris Thomas.
On May 10th shortly after returning to Trincomalee
after 'DRACULA'operations HUNTER, KHEDIVE, EMPEROR and SHAH were ordered
to sea at short notice. The carriers were tasked to provide air support
for the 3rd Battle Squadron as it swept across the Andaman Sea hunting
for the Japanese Cruiser HAGURO codenamed Operation 'Dukedom'. The
HAGURO was one of the last surviving major Japanese warships, and she
had been reported as having put to sea. HMS EMPEROR was the only carrier
to engage the HAGURO; she was carrying HMS SHAH's Avengers, these having
been transferred after SHAH's catapult went unserviceable - a type she
was not equipped to support. A single Avenger located and attacked the
HAGURO but with little success. She was later sunk by the Battle
Squadron's destroyers off Sumatra while attempting to return to
After a brief break EMPEROR put to sea again on June
18th, a detachment of eight aircraft again joined HMS SHAH from where
they operated between June 24th and July 1st returning to EMPEROR in
time for her next action, "Operation Collie" which commenced on July
2nd. "Collie" called for EMPEROR, in company with HMS AMEER, to carry
out strikes on the Nicobar Islands and to provide air cover for
minesweeping forces operating off Phuket Island. On completion of
Operation 'Collie' EMPEROR returned to Ceylon on July 19th and 800 NAS
was disembarked to Royal Naval Air Station Katukurunda.
Scenes of the celebrations in Trincomalee harbour on V-J
day as seen from the flight deck of HMS EMPEROR.
Photos: Courtesy of Chris Thomas.
EMPEROR was next called into action at the start of
September when together with sister CVEs AMEER, EMPRESS, HUNTER,
KHEDIVE, and STALKER they were tasked with the reoccupation of
Singapore, code name Operation "Zipper". The force left Trincomalee on
the 4th and arrived off Singapore Island on the 6th. On September 10th
EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE and STALKER anchored in Keppel Harbour,
Singapore, AMEER and EMPRESS were among 90 ships (including 70 RN and
RIN warships, 3 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, 3 hospital ships and 14
merchant vessels) present in Singapore Roads for the surrender ceremony
which took place on the 12th.
HMS EMPEROR enters Singapore harbour with the Hellcats
of 800 squadron neatly ranged on her flight deck and the
ship's company dressing the ship - a peace time
procedure, Photo: Courtesy of Chris Thomas.
After leaving Singapore EMPEROR proceeded to Southern
India where she disembarked the aircraft of 800 Naval Air Squadron to
Royal Naval Air Station Coimbatore on September 18th; the aircraft were
to remain at Coimbatore as the squadron was stood down from active
duties. After returning to Ceylon EMPEROR began loading stores and
passengers in preparation for her return to the UK. She sailed from
Trincomalee on October 30th calling at Colombo and Bombay before
transiting the Suez Canal. EMPEROR arrived on the Clyde on December 4th
to unload her passengers and stores; 800 squadron officially disbanded
upon leaving the ship the next day.
With the war over HMS EMPEROR was no longer required
for service in the Royal Navy and work began to prepare her for her
return to the custody of the US Navy. As soon as her passengers had left
work began de-storing her before she proceeded to Plymouth for the
removal of specialist equipment and other stores beginning on January
8th 1946. On completion of this work she departed from the UK for the
last time on January 23rd and set a course for Norfolk Navy Yard,
HMS EMPEROR was de-commissioned, and CVE 34 returned
to t U.S. Navy custody on February 12th 1946 at Norfolk. She was struck
from the US Naval Vessel Register on March 28th 1946 and was sold to the
Patapsco Scrap Corp, Baltimore on May 14th 1946 for breaking as scrap.
04 November 2016
Sources used in compiling this account:
Brown, D. (1974) 'Carrier Operations in World War 2 - vol
1 the Royal Navy' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.
Hobbs, D. (2003) 'Royal Navy Escort Carriers'
Liskeard, Maritime Books
Poolman, K. (1988) 'Allied Escort Carriers of World War
Two in Action' London, Blandford Press
Smith,P.C., (12001) 'Task Force 57: The British Pacific
Fleet, 1944 - 45'Bristol, Crecy Books
Sturtivant, R. & Burrows, M. (1995) 'Fleet Air Arm
Aircraft 1939 to 1945'Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain
Sturtivant, R & Balance, T., (1994) 'Squadrons of the
Fleet Air Arm'Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)
Weaver, D. (2004) 'The History of HMS Queen - A World War
II Lend Lease Escort Aircraft Carrier' Hong Kong, D.G.
Winton, J. (1969) 'The forgotten Fleet', London,
Michael Joseph Ltd.
(including Commonwealth officers serving in British
units) Part of WWII Unit Histories and Officers web site.
Convoy Web A
comprehensive resource listing WW2 convoys and ships .
Ships in Atlantic and miscellaneous convoys during WW2.
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
US Naval Station, Seattle, Washington
US Naval Station, Manchester, Washington
Puget Sound Navy Yard War Diaries
US Thirteenth Naval District War Diaries
Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries
Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries