November 1943 - November 1945
Formation and work-up
The personnel for No.1839 Squadron assembled at
RNAS Eglinton In early November 1943 and it officially formed on November 15th as a single seat fighter squadron under the command of Lt. Cdr (A) ) D.M. Jeram
RN. Tie squadron was issued with 10 Hellcat I aircraft.
Together with 1844, which formed at Eglinton a month later, 1839 formed the 5th Naval Fighter Wing (5 NFW or 5 Wing) for service in the Illustrious-class Fleet Aircraft Carrier HMS INDOMITABLE. At this time the Wing came under the care of Commander H.P. Sears RN who was in charge of 5 and 6 Fighter Wings plus 12 and 45 TBR (Torpedo, Bomber and Reconnaissance) Wings while they were training in the UK.
After familiarisation with the aircraft and equipment the squadron began training in earnest to prepare for active service. Training included navigation exercises, low flying, formation flying and combat tactics. There are two flying incidents recorded for the work-up period, both in January 1944; on the 113th Sub-Lt J.K.T. Haberfield RNZNVR retracted his undercarriage landed on in FN393 at
Eglinton. On the 31st Sub-Lt R.J. Corkhill was killed, while flying in FN410 on a cross-country exercise from RAF Aldergrove his aircraft
caught fire at low altitude and flew into rising ground at Knocknolly, Martinatown, nr Ballymena, Co Antrim.
Grumman Hellcat © IWM (A 20017)
Passage to India
On February 25th 1944 both 1839 and 1844 squadrons flew to
RNAS Belfast in preparation for embarking in the escort carrier
as part of a large uplift of naval air power for the Eastern Fleet, involving nine FAA squadrons being ferried to Ceylon. Loading began on February 26th,
BEGUM began embarking the aircraft of four squadrons; aircrew and aircraft of 1839 and 1844 squadrons, each equipped with 10 Hellcat fighters were embarked first and the aircraft stowed in the hanger, the following day the aircraft of 815 and 817 squadrons (12 TBR Wing, also for INDOMITABLE), each equipped with 12 Barracuda IIs, were embarked and secured on the flight deck for passage. Squadron personnel were embarked on the troopship STRATHNAVER. Loading was completed on the 27th and
BEGUM returned to her mooring on the Clyde to finish loading stores and passengers before sailing on March 3rd. Also on the 26th the 24 Barracudas of 822 and 823 squadrons were loaded aboard
ATHELING as cargo at Glasgow; the aircrew and maintenance personnel making the passage by troopship, these were followed by the 24 Corsairs of 1837 and 1838 squadron and their aircrews. The ninth squadron 832, with 12 Avengers and 4 Wildcats, was split between the two aircraft transports ATHENE and ENGADINE.
ATHELING, ATHENE, ENGADINE and STRATHNAVER sailed from the Clyde on March 3rd as Ceylon as part of Convoy KMF 29A bound for Alexandria On arrival at Alexandria on March 17th squadron personnel transferred from the STRATHNAVER to the ARONDA for the second leg of the journey. After transit of the Suez canal
ATHELING, ATHENE, ENGADINE and the troopship ARONDA assembled at Aden and formed convoy AJ 2 sailing for Ceylon on March 28th and arriving in Colombo Harbour on Tuesday April 4th 1944 where the carriers unloaded some of their stores and passengers. On April 7th Commander T.G.C. Jameson was appointed as Wing Leader of 5 Wing.
Aircraft of 1839 about to launch from the flight
deck of H.M.S. BEGUM disembarking to RNAMY Tambaram,
S. India c. April 15th 1944
After storing and refuelling
ATHELING and ARONDA proceeded to Madras to unload their squadrons, sailing in Convoy JC 43A, they arrived at Madras harbour on April 11th.
BEGUM began unloading on the 14th, with all four squadrons being disembarked to
RNAMY Tambaram; 1839 and 1844 squadrons were destined for RAF Ulunderpet, 100 miles south of Tambaram, arriving there on the 17th, while 815 and 817 squadrons were to be lodged at RAF St. Thomas Mount, 13 miles to the North.
While at RAF Ulunderpet a second pilot from 1839 squadron was killed in an air crash; Sub-Lt J.A. Starkey RNVR died on May 8th when his aircraft, FN401, crashed at Nurvingippan, nr Cuddaloto, Madras Province 45 minutes after take-off. The two squadrons were to continue their training in India until early June when 1844 moved to Ceylon, arriving
RNAS Colombo Racecourse, on the 7th, 1839 arrived at RNAS Colombo Racecourse on June 23rd. A third 1839 pilot was killed on July 7th; Sub-Lt J.R. Black RNZNVR was flying in FN444 when he was forced to ditch 10 Miles West of Colombo, he had failed to drop his long range tank before ditching and the force of impact shred off the tail. The aircraft remained afloat for only 2 minutes before sinking; there was no sign of the pilot.
Some aircraft from 5 Wing operated with INDOMITABLE off Colombo prior to the ship
embarking her air wings; one such sortie was on July 24th when JV142 was lost, flown by the squadron C.O. Lt. Cdr D.M. Jeram the aircraft caught No. 4 wire which parted, continued on through 2 barriers, before disappearing overboard. The pilot was rescued OK.
HMS INDOMITABLE and operations in the Indian Ocean
No. 5 Wing embarked in HMS INDOMITABLE on July 25th for operational service, No.12 Naval TBR Wing (815 and 817 Barracudas) had embarked on the 23rd. The ship carried out flying training with VICTORIOUS and ILLUSTRIOUS off Ceylon in preparation for future joint operations.
Operations BOOMERANG and BANQUET
On August 18th INDOMITABLE joined Force 64 ( Battleships HOWE, carriers INDOMITABLE, ILLUSTRIOUS and VICTORIOUS, cruisers CEYLON and KENYA screened by Destroyers RAIDER, RAPID, REDOUBT, ROCKET, and ROTHERHAM) for Operations BOOMERANG (to provide air-sea rescue cover during US air attacks by XX Bomber Command on Sumatra) and BANQUET (air strikes on targets at Padang, Sumatra). The force provided air-sea rescue and fighter cover for Operation BOOMERANG on August 23rd before instigating operation BANQUET on the 24th when INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS, with HOWE, CEYLON and KENYA, ROTHERHAM, RAIDER, RAPID and ROCKET carried out air attacks on Padang. Targets included a cement works at Indaroeng and harbour installations at Emmerhaven. One Japanese freighter was sunk and two damaged. The force withdrew towards Trincomalee on the 25th. On September 8th Lt. Cdr S.F..F. Shotton DSC, RNR, relieved Lt. Cdr Jeram as squadron commanding officer.
INDOMITABLE was deployed with VICTORIOUS, HOWE, CUMBERLAND and KENYA, with Destroyers RACEHORSE, RAIDER, RAPID, REDOUBT, RELENTLESS, ROCKET, and ROTHERHAM from September 16th to carry out Operation LIGHT, a two part operation to launch air strikes on Japanese positions in Sigli, Northern Sumatra, Indonesia, and aerial reconnaissance over the Nicobar Islands. Part one (Operation LIGHT A) involved a fighter sweep over Japanese airfields in the area of Medan and Belawan Deli, as well as a photographic survey of Aru Bay, Pangkalan and air strikes on airfields on the 17th but his was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. Part two (Operation LIGHT B) was carried out on the 18th with flights over northern Sumatra and strikes on railway facilities at Sigli.
September 18th 1944, Smoke rising in clouds from
Japanese railway repair and maintenance centre in
Sigli after all bombs had found the target area. ©
IWM (A 25783)
Each carrier launched 10 Barracudas; escort was eight Hellcats and 16 Corsairs. Form-up of the strike force took 40 minutes; much of the delay was due to INDOMITABLE having ranged too many of her strike aircraft on deck for the wind conditions, a longer take off run was needed when the wind speed across the deck was low so some aircraft had to be returned to the hangar in order to provide sufficient deck space and then ranged again to complete the launch cycle. One of INDOMITABLE’s Barracuda’s ditched on take-off. The operation was not a success, the Barracudas were hasty in their attack runs, hitting the main targets but missing several of the secondary objectives. The top-cover Corsairs had also abandoned their escort position to strafe ground targets. INDOMITABLE’s 2 PR Hellcats, were sent on an alternative reconnaissance flight to photograph parts of Northern Sumatra and the Nicobar Islands. Unfortunately they strafed a target of opportunity – the submarine HMS SPIRIT, which was acting as Plane Guard and had surfaced in an attempt to rescue the crew of a ditched Barracuda. The force withdrew towards Ceylon on the 19th.
For this operation INDOMITABLE was deployed with a large number of Eastern Fleet ships in Force 63. The Force was broken down into three Task Groups, TG63.1 comprised HMS RENOWN, Destroyers QUILLIAM, QUIBERON and QUEENBOROUGH. TG63.2 comprised Cruisers LONDON, CUMBERLAND and SUFFOLK, Destroyers QUEENBOROUGH, RAIDER, NORMAN (RAN) and Dutch destroyer VAN GALEN. TG63.3 comprised Carriers INDOMITABLE (857, 1839 and 1844 Naval Air Squadrons – 50 aircraft) and VICTORIOUS (1834, 1886, and 849 Naval Air Squadrons – 55 aircraft), Cruiser PHOEBE, Destroyers WHELP, WAGER, WESSEX and WAKEFUL. The operation, which called for a naval bombardment and aerial strikes on Japanese positions in the Nicobar Islands, on 17–20 October 1944, was a distraction timed to coincide with the American invasion of the of Leyte in the Philippines.
INDOMITABLE sailed with Task Group 63.3 on October 15th and with VICTORIOUS Launched air attacks on targets in the Nicobar Islands on the 17th. The Anti-Aircraft Cruiser PHOEBE provided fighter direction facilities. INDOMITABLE launched 10 Barracudas covered by eight Hellcats to hit Nancowry harbour, 8 Corsairs from VICTORIOUS provided top cover. VICTORIOUS launched a further 19 Corsairs to suppress activity on nearby airfields and attack targets of opportunity. British losses were 2 Corsairs shot down and another 3 damaged during their strafing, one 1839 squadron Hellcat crashed on landing, killing its pilot Sub-Lt D. M. Mackenzie RNVR, his aircraft went over the port side after hitting the rounddown landing on. An 1844 Hellcat, FN 430 ('R6R'), flown by Lt L.V. Godfrey RNVR landed on with drift to Port, the Port wheel hit a turret then went into the DLCO's position. One 815 squadron Barracuda (LS519) and its crew were lost when it failed to pull out of its bombing dive after being hit by flak, another (LS625) floated over all the arrestor wires and crashed into Hellcat FN381 of 1839 squadron. Both airframes were put ashore at Trincomalee on the 21st. The cruisers of TG63.2 carried out a bombardment of Car Nicobar, with Hellcats from INDOMITABLE spotting.
Plans to strike Sabang were called off due to bad weather; however a second bombardment of Car Nicobar targets was carried out during the morning of the 19th together with a repeat of the air strikes. INDOMITABLE’s Action Information Network was offline due to technical issues when a group of unidentified aircraft was detected on radar at 09:30, VICTORIOUS’s Combat Air Patrol (CAP) Corsairs were not in the correct area to intercept, nor were INDOMITABLE’s Hellcats. The CAP finally engaged when the hostile force of 12 bombers, 9 flying at 7000 feet with another 3 at 16,000 feet as top cover, just 12 miles north east of the carrier formation. From 09:50 to 10:30 the Corsairs, joined by the bombardment force CAP Hellcats fought over the fleet with Seven Oscars being claimed as shot down. Two Ki43 ‘Oscar’ were claimed by Sub-Lt C.T. Wilson SANF(V) of 1844 in Hellcat FN411 (an 1839 sqn aircraft). However Sub-Lt D.F. Grinham of 1844 was killed when his aircraft FN369 was shot down into the sea during a dogfight with an enemy fighter; 2 Corsairs of VICTORIOUS‘s 1834 Squadron were also lost. On returning to Trincomalee on October 21st No.5 NFW was disembarked to
RNAS China Bay and No.12 Naval TBR Wing to
RNAS Katukurunda. The Barracudas would not be
rejoining the ship, their place being taken by 857 squadron equipped with 21 Avenger I & IIs which joined the ship on |November 27th.
On November 22nd ILLUSTRIOUS, INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS were transferred to the new British Pacific Fleet. 857 Squadron embarked on November 27th followed by 5 Wing on December 1st as the Fleet prepared to undertake its first combat operations, codenamed OUTFLANK. This was a series of four raids by the Fleet Air Arm on the oil refineries and storage facilities on the island of Sumatra: Operations ROBSON, LENTIL, MERIDIAN One, and MERIDIAN Two. Both the Hellcat squadrons had now been increased to 14 aircraft each.
On December 17th INDOMITABLE was deployed with Force 67 which comprised INDOMITABLE (857, 1839 and 1844 Naval Air Squadrons – 50 aircraft) and ILLUSTRIOUS (854, 1830 and 1833 Naval Air Squadrons – 43 aircraft), cruisers ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE and NEWCASTLE, escorted by destroyers KEMPENFELT, WAKEFUL, WESSEX, WHIRLWIND and WRANGLER. The oiler group, Force 69, comprised RFA WAVE KING and the destroyers WAGER and WHELP.
The fleet reached the flying-off position in the early morning of December 20th. The strike force comprised of 28 Avengers, INDOMITABLE supplied 12 and ILLUSTRIOUS 16, each with four 500-lb bombs; ILLUSTRIOUS also launched 4 Corsairs, each with two 500-lb bombs. Among the escorts, top cover was provided by 8 Hellcats from INDOMITABLE, middle cover by 12 Corsairs from ILLUSTRIOUS, and close cover by a further eight Hellcats from INDOMITABLE. The operation began at 06:36; their primary target was the refinery at Pangkalan Brandan with secondary targets at Belawan Deli. The strike force ran into heavy cloud as they approached the Sumatran coast and was unable to locate the primary target. The strike was diverted to Belawan Deli, where the weather was little better, the Avengers bombed the wharves from 1500 feet, while the Corsairs strafed the fuel storage tanks and warehouses in the town. A train was also hit at nearby Kuala Simpang. The anti-aircraft artillery at Belawan Deli was ineffective and no enemy fighters were put in the air, although one Ki-21 'Sally' was surprised and shot down by two Hellcats from 1839 squadron at 08:45. The raid ended in chaos, with complete loss of radio discipline, the resulting ‘radio bedlam’ meant that the strike force and escorts had to rendezvous just beneath the clouds and visually assemble and form up for the return leg. All 55 aircraft had landed by 10:50, and the force retired, arriving back at Trincomalee on the 22nd.
This was a second attempt to strike the oil refineries at Pangkalang Brandan, Sumatra. INDOMITABLE (Rear Admiral Aircraft Carriers, BPF, Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, KBE, DSO) was deployed with Task Force 65 which comprised INDEFATIGABLE (820, 887, 894, 888, and 1770 Naval Air Squadrons – 71 aircraft), INDOMITABLE(857, 1839 and 1844 Naval Air Squadrons – 50 aircraft) and VICTORIOUS (1834, 1886, and 849 Naval Air Squadrons – 55 aircraft), cruisers ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, CEYLON and SUFFOLK, Destroyers GRENVILLE, KEMPENFELT, UNDAUNTED, UNDINE, URSA, WAGER and WHELP.
The Force left Trincomalee on December 31st for Northern Sumatra and arrived at its launch position near Simalur Island, on the morning of January 4th and the carrier aircraft were flown off to attack the oil refineries at Pangkalan Brandan. A fighter strike force (RAMROD) of 16 aircraft - 8 Hellcats from INDOMITABLE and 8 Corsairs from VICTORIOUS, was launched shortly after dawn at 06:10 with orders to suppress the airfields at Bindjai, Medan, Tandjonpoera and Troemon which were along the approach path to the target.
January 4th 1945, aircraft forming up over the fleet
for the strike on the Japanese oil refinery at
Pangkalan Brandan, Sumatra © IWM (A 27166)
The main strike force comprised of 32 Avengers, INDOMITABLE supplied 16 and VICTORIOUS 16, each with four 500-lb bombs; INDEFATIGABLE laundered 12 Fireflies armed with eight 60-lb rockets each. Among the escorts, top cover was provided by 8 Hellcats from INDOMITABLE, middle cover by 16 Corsairs from VICTORIOUS, and close cover by a further eight Hellcats from INDOMITABLE. This force launched at 07:40. Twelve miles out from the target the Fireflies of 1770 Squadron broke away to launch a rocket and cannon attack at 08:25 to suppress air defences in and around the town of Pangkalan Soe Soe, at 08:31 the Avengers of 857 Squadron hit the main Pangkalan Brandan refinery, 849 Squadron hit the Edeleanu Plant at 08:33. The strike succeeded in causing considerable damage: the attack aircraft badly damaged the refinery, and the fighters shot down about 12 Japanese aircraft as well as destroying another 20 on the ground. One Avenger and One Firefly were lost but the crews were rescued. Two Hellcats were damaged on INDOMITABLE’s flight deck, Sub-Lt J.D.S. Smithwick RNVR in FN422 ('R6H') of 1844 turned too rapidly and his tail hit the prop of the next (unidentified) aircraft. Lt G.M. Torrance RNVR of 1844 had a lucky escape in FN438 ('R5N'), an 1839 Sqn Hellcat, he hit a tree during a low strafing attack on enemy positions; he managed to return to the ship safely. Photographic reconnaissance of port installations at Belawan Deli, Brandan, and Soe
Soe was also made by aircraft from 888 squadron. The Force returned to Ceylon on January 7th.
Operation MERIDIAN One:
The first two stages of Operation OUTFLANK had been rehearsals for the next two; the forces involved had returned to Ceylon between strikes to regroup but there would be no respite between the two MERIDIAN strikes which were to be conducted by the British Pacific Fleet while on passage to Australia.
Designated Task Force 63 the vessels of the BPF sailed from Trincomalee on January 16th 1945 and were expected to spend the next 20 days at sea. TF63 comprised Fleet Carriers INDEFATIGABLE (Flag 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron (ACS1), Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, KBE, DSO) (820, 887, 894, and 1770 Naval Air Squadrons – 73 aircraft), INDOMITABLE (857, 1839 and 1844 Naval Air Squadrons – 50 aircraft) and VICTORIOUS (1834, 1836, and 849 Naval Air Squadrons – 55 aircraft) and ILLUSTRIOUS (854, 1830, 1833 squadrons + 2 Walrus – 55 aircraft), Battleship KING GEORGE V (Flag Vice Admiral Sir Henry Bernard Rawlings 2iC British Pacific Fleet), cruisers ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, CEYLON and EURYALUS, Destroyers GRENVILLE, KEMPENFELT, UNDAUNTED, UNDINE, URSA, WAGER WAKEFUL, WESSEX, WHIRLWIND, and WHELP. A Replenishment Group, Force 69, comprising the Tankers ECHODALE, WAVE KING, and EMPIRE SALVAGE escorted by the Destroyer URCHIN departed earlier, on January 13th; the cruiser CEYLON detached from TF63 to join the Replenishment Group on the 20th when the two forces first rendezvoused, another Tanker, ARNDALE sailed from Fremantle on the 15th to join TF69.
After refuelling in poor weather TF63 made several attempts to begin MERIDIAN operations but conditions worsened and it was not until the morning of January 24th that the first strike could be launched, from the flying off position, approximately 200 miles from the target, Pladjoe refinery. Flying began at 06:15 and during the next 45 minutes the strike force of 48 Avengers, 12 from each of the four carriers, each armed with four 500-lb bombs, and 16 Corsairs as top cover, a further 8 Corsairs and 16 Hellcats as middle cover were assembled. Two Avenger were damaged on INDEFATIGABLE before take-off and a further 4 Avengers and 2 Corsairs dropped out of the forming wing for emergency landings. At 07:04, nine minutes late, the strike force of 87 aircraft – 47 Avengers, 24 Corsairs and 16 Hellcats headed for the objective. A Reconnaissance group of 2 PR Hellcats of 1839 squadron were launched at 08:00.
The second launch was completed at 07:20 with 24 Corsairs, three flights of eight, assigned to the RAMROD to attack and suppress Lembak, Palembang and Talengbetoetoe airfields in succession, and the 12 Fireflies of 1770 Squadron. There were also 4 Avengers and 4 Hellcats from INDOMITABLE tasked with neutralising Mana airfield on the coast. Three Fireflies suffered mechanical problems leaving only 9 to complete their task of strafing the refineries defences with their 20mm cannons armed with armour-piercing and incendiary ammunition.
The Avenger squadrons were divided into two wings. No. 1 Wing 857 and 849 Squadrons, while No. 2 had 854 and 820 Squadron; arriving over the target they discovered barrage balloons had been added to the Pladjoe refinery defences. They deployed for their attack at 08:11 and Wing one began their run at 08:14 followed by Wing two. The strike was over by 08:22 and the Avengers made for their rally point. Meanwhile the escorting fighters had been engaged in heavy dog fights over the target as enemy fighters had been quick to respond once the alarm had been raised. The first of the returning aircraft landed on at 09:40 and recovery was completed by 10:25, 6 Corsairs and 2 Avengers failed to return. TF63 began to withdraw at 10:30 retiring to the south-west at 22 knots towards the refuelling area. The 2 PR Hellcats landed on at 11:30 having photographed 11 airfields, 6 of which were new, and the target.
INDOMITABLE’s Hellcats shot down 6 enemy fighters (2 Ki45 ‘Nick’, 2 Ki44 ‘Tojo’, and 1 Ki43 ‘Oscar’) and damaged 3 more during the raid; from 1844 Sub-Lt L E.J. Hawkins RNVR in FN383 ('R6F') hit a ‘Tojo’ in the port wing at 08:00 South of Pladjoe oil refinery causing it to dive steeply, at 08:15 Sub-Lt ET Wilson in JW731 ('R6L') shot down a ‘Nick’ (shared with the flight leader Lt AB Macrae RNZNvR in FN431 ('R5H')) followed by a ‘Tojo’ which he left smoking and out of control diving over Palembang. From 1839 squadron Lt. Cdr S.F.F.. Shotton in JX758 ('R5A') attacked a ‘Tojo’ at 08:00, possibly hitting it, then shot down a ‘Nick’ with its port engine on fire over Palembang at 08:30. Sub-Lt RF Mackie RNZNVR in JV141 ('R5G') shot down a ‘Tojo’ at 08:00 before his own aircraft was hit by AA fire; he made a safe return to the ship. Lt W.F.H. Schwenk RNVR (aircraft not identified) also damaged one ‘Oscar’ and probably destroyed a second before his own aircraft was damaged over Palembang at 08:00. One squadron aircraft, JX757, failed to return from the mission the pilot Sub-Lt J. M. Haberfield RNZNVR was taken prisoner.
Operation MERIDIAN Two
Task Force 63 spent the next four days in the replenishment area in preparation for launching phase two of MERIDIAN, a strike on the second Palembang refinery at Soengi Gerong. At 06:00 on January 29th TF63 was again at the flying off position but bad weather delayed the first launch until 06:40. As before the strike force comprised of 48 Avengers, 12 from each carrier, Bow cover of 10 Fireflies, Close cover: 12 Corsairs, Top cover 12 Corsairs, Mid cover 16 Hellcats. The RAMROD force to suppress Japanese airfields would now be synchronised to minimise the enemy’s response time to their arrival and prevent too many enemy fighters getting airborne. Two separate RAMROD forces X-Ray and Yoke, each with 12 Corsairs, would attack the two main airfields simultaneously. They would then loiter over the airfields to engage any aircraft that later managed to get off the ground. A Reconnaissance group of 2 PR Hellcats of 1839 squadron and 2 Fireflies were also launched. In addition, 4 Hellcats and 8 Corsairs were retained to supplement the CAP; the Seafire was the primary CAP aircraft due to its short range which ruled it out of the strikes but this type was not ideal for deck landing and many were put out of action through deck landing accidents.
Problems arose almost straightaway, three Avengers and 1 Firefly did not launch, 1 Avenger from INDOMITABLE ditched with engine failure shortly after take-off while another 3 experienced problems and had to make an emergency landing. Form-up was completed by 07:34, four minutes late; the strike force was no reduced to 41 Avengers. The second launch of the RAMROD, bow cover Fireflies and PR Hellcats, followed shortly after. Two Corsairs turned back with engine troubles.
RAMRODS X-Ray and Yoke arrived over Lembak and Talengbetoetoe airfields at 08:30 but strangely both airfields were virtually deserted. The Japanese had been alerted when the force crossed the coast and were already in the air waiting. The strike force was engaged by Japanese fighters at 08:14, 50 miles out from Palembang and the escort engaged. The Avengers arrived over the target to find the refinery was again defended by Barrage Balloons which were to cause havoc for the later strike aircraft once smoke from burning oil obscured the area. They began their Dive-Bombing runs at 08:45; two Avengers from 854 squadron struck Balloon cables and went down others were damaged by accurate flack but found their targets. They were mauled by fighters on the way to the rendezvous point but departed for the coast at 09:01. Landing on began at 10:15 and would take more than an hour for all returning aircraft to arrive; 6 badly damaged Avengers ditched , 2 others and a Corsair were ordered to ‘ditch or bale out’ to minimise the risk of fouling a flight deck. The CAP had been in action as early as 09:00 chasing radar contacts and shooting down one out of a small group of attackers at 09:40 before the rest retreated.
The force did not come under attack until 11:50 when a group of 7 Mitsubishi Ki-21 ‘Sally’ Kamikaze bombers approached, the CAP Seafires and Corsairs engaged, 3 Hellcats scrambled from INDOMITABLE when the attackers were in range of her 4.5-inch guns. The bombers, now at 50 feet, appeared to have singled-out ILLUSTRIOUS and INDEFATIGABLE; all were destroyed but two came within yards of the two carriers. The Hellcats claimed 2 kills, both by Sub-Lt K.A. McLennan RNZNVR of 1844 in FN439 ('R6K') at 12:00, the Seafires claiming another four; the last was destroyed by ship borne gunfire.
MERIDIAN operations were completed at 15:30 as TF63 steamed for the replenishment area. A total of 378 sorties were flown during MERIDIAN One and Two, 16 British aircraft were lost in action, 11 ditched and another 14 were lost as a result of deck landing accidents, 30 aircrew were lost. INDOMITABLE’s Hellcats also shot down 2 enemy fighters over Soengei Gerong, both by pilots from 1839 squadron; a Ki44 ‘Tojo’ to Sub-Lt R. Neal RNVR in JV100 ('R5R'), and a Ki43 ‘Oscar’ at 09:15 to Sub-Lt Mackie in JX758 , the Japanese pilot baled out over Soengei Gerong.
Operations in the Pacific
After a final replenishment on January 30th and calling at Fremantle on February 4th, TF63 arrived off the New South Wales Coast on February 10th when 1839 and 1844 squadrons were flown ashore to
RNAS Nowra (M.O.N.A.B. I, HMS NABBINGTON), INDOMITABLE then entered Sydney harbour. The two Hellcat squadrons were to remain ashore at
Nowra for the next two and a half weeks, receiving replacement aircraft and aircrew. Some pilots conducted DLT with the ship in early February before the squadron re-joined her on the 27th. One such sortie flown by Sub-Lt W.H.I Atkinson RCNVR resulted in a crash when his aircraft, FN432 (an 1839 Squadron aircraft) ended up in No.2 barrier on February 2nd.
On February 27th INDOMITABLE (Flag, 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron) together with ILLUSTRIOUS, INDEFATIGABLE, VICTORIOUS, QUICKMATCH, QUEENBOROUGH, and QUALITY sailed from Sydney for exercises and to fly on aircraft before making their rendezvous with other ships of the BPF, now redesignated TF113, on the 28th. TF113 was under the command of Vice Admiral Sir H. Bernard Rawlings, KCB, OBE, and comprised of the 1st Battle Squadron, HMS KING GEORGE V (Flagship V.A.B.P.F.), HMS HOWE, 4th Cruiser Squadron, SWIFTSURE, (Flagship CS 4 Rear Admiral E.J.P. Brind, CB, CBE), GAMBIA), ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, EURYALUS, (Flag of Rear Admiral (D) Rear Admiral J.H. Edelsten, CB, CBE), the 25th Destroyer Flotilla, GRENVILLE (Captain D 25) ULSTER, UNDINE, URSA, URANIA, the 27th Destroyer Flotilla, KEMPENFELT (Captain D 27), WAKEFUL, WHIRLWIND, WHELP, WESSEX, and UNICORN; ILLUSTRIOUS had to remain behind as she had developed defects as a result of a friendly-fire incident and had to be docked to remove her centre propeller before re-joining the Fleet.
Later on the 27th pilots from 5 Wing conducted night DLT sessions, JX758 of 1839 flown by Sub-Lt J.D.S. Smithwick of 1844 was lost overboard after failing to catch a wire it passed through the barrier and went over the Port side, the pilot was rescued safely. The ships of TF 113 conducted training and exercises on passage and arrived at Manus, the Admiralty Islands March 7th. There were four more deck crashes during this period; the first two on March 2nd involved 1844 aircraft flown by 1839 pilots, Sub-Lt D.G. Jenkins RNVR in JW765 stalled onto the rounddown, this removed the arrestor hook and tail wheel, and buckling the fuselage before entering the crash barrier, and Lt N.O. Mitchell RNVR in JW863 who bounced over all the arrestor wires and entered the barrier. The third was an 1839 machine, FN432 flown by Sub-Lt W.H.I. Atkinson RCNVR of 1844 which entered No. 2 barrier. The fourth was Sub-Lt J.R. Northeast RNVR of 1844 in FN436 ('R6X'), he made a heavy landing and tipped into No. 2 barrier on March 7th.
After storing and fuelling at Manus the carriers INDOMITABLE, VICTORIOUS, and INDEFATIGABLE with a screen of six destroyers proceeded to sea for independent flying exercises on March 13th. On completion the carriers returned to harbour having flown ashore a proportion of their Squadrons to Pityilu Island; arrangements had been made with U.S. Authorities for this to be done, the carriers landing the necessary personnel, etc. Task Force 113 sailed for Ulithi Atoll on the 18th, arriving there on the 19th. There was one deck crash during the exercise period for 1844; on March 14th JW974 ('R6W'), flown by Lt G.M. Torrance RNVR, burst its port tyre landing on and the aircraft swung causing the starboard oleo to collapse.
Task Force 57 & Operation ICEBERG: 26th March – 25th May 1945
After refuelling and taking on ammunition and stores the British pacific Fleet was redesignated Task Force 57 on March 23rd under the operational control of Admiral Raymond Spruance USN, CinC US Fifth Fleet. TF57sailed from Ulithi at 06:30 on March 23rd 1945, for operations. After replenishment at sea on the 25th Task Force 57 joined with US Task Force 58 on the 26th for joint attacks on islands of the Sakishima-Gunto group in support of preparations for the US landings on Okinawa, code named Operation ICEBERG. At the start of April Commander N.S. Luard RN took over as Wing Leader.
ICEBERG phase one
For the first phase of operation ICEBERG the carriers had embarked 218 aircraft; INDEFATIGABLE 40 Seafire, 20 Avenger, and 9 Firefly, INDOMITABLE 29 Hellcat, and 15 Avenger, ILLUSTRIOUS 36 Corsair, and 16 Avenger, and VICTORIOUS 37 Corsair, 14 Avenger, and 2 Walrus. The carriers were tasked with denying the Japanese use of airfields on two Islands in the Sakishima-Gunto group in a series of 12 strike days conducted in rotating cycles of 2-3 days of strikes and 2 – 3 days of replenishment; when TF57 stood down to replenish the strike task was taken over by USN elements TF58 and later TF52.
Iceberg strike series 1, March 26 - 27: ICEBERG operations began at 06:05 on March 26th when the first CAP and one ASP (Anti-Submarine Patrol) aircraft were flown off. At 06:35 a 48 aircraft strong Hellcat and Corsair RAMROD was flown off from a position 100 miles from Miyako Jima to attack the airfields at Ishigaki and Miyako; they reported little activity there. At 08:50 one aircraft was reported as having ditched 20 miles from Tarima Shirra; this was Sub-Lt Wilson of 1844 squadron, his aircraft (an unidentified 1839 Squadron Hellcat) had been hit in the engine by flak over Ishigaki. He was rescued by a Walrus from VICTORIOUS. The fighter sweeps were followed by two escorted bomber strikes and one fighter bomber strike against airfields and associated buildings. A second Hellcat, JX741 from 1839 squadron, was also hit by flak and badly damaged; unable to lower the undercarriage, the pilot Sub-Lt A.B. Macrae RNZNVR, who was also severely wounded managed to make a successful belly landing on INDOMITABLE. Once all aircraft had been recovered the Fleet withdrew to the south eastward. The Fleet had lost 4 aircraft in action and another 5 in accidents, many of the claimed 35 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground turned out to be dummies and as few as 12 were real.
At 02:45 in the early morning of March 27th a bogey was detected by radar to the eastward. A Hellcat was then flown off from INDOMITABLE to intercept, but the moon became obscured by a cloud when the pilot was about to open fire and the enemy escaped in the darkness. The fleet was again in position 100 miles south of Myako Jima at sunrise and the CAP and ASP were launched at 06:05 followed by a 24 aircraft strong Hellcat and Corsair RAMROD fighter sweep sent into Ishigaki Jima, they reported little activity. Two bomber strikes, each of 24 Avengers and 4 rocket equipped Fireflies, were directed against radio stations, barracks and airfields not covered the previous day. Coasters off the islands were also attacked. The final mission was a small fighter bomber strike. A typhoon was reported as heading towards the Sakishima-Gunto group so the decision was taken to cancel the air and bombardment programme planned against Ishigaki Jima for the 28th and the Fleet withdrew to the replenishment area east of Luzon, after the second day's strikes had been landed on. The Fleet had lost 2 aircraft in action and another 6 in accidents. As a result of the night intercept early that morning it was decided to keep 4 Hellcats at readiness on deck after dusk; although not a Night Fighter variant the Hellcat was considered the ‘safer’ night landing aircraft due to its shorter nose giving better pilot sight--lines on approach.
Replenishment period 1, March 28 - 30: The Logistic Support Group
(LSG) CVEs SPEAKER (CAP) and STRIKER (Replenishment), CRANE, FINDHORN, PHEASANT, WHIRLWIND and KEMPENFELT, Tankers CEDARDALE, SAN ADOLPHO and SAN AMBROSIO.
were waiting at the prearranged rendezvous, in area MIDGE One, a rectangular area which covered 5000 square miles of ocean, at 07:30 on the 28th TF57 met the Tanker Group and began refuelling.
STRIKER issued 13 replacement aircraft to the fleet and recovered three flyable, but unserviceable, aircraft; in addition she transferred replacement Avenger aircrew to 854 Squadron in ILLUSTRIOUS. Replenishment was complete by mid-afternoon on March 30th.
Iceberg strike series 2, March 31 – April 2nd: TF57 was in its flying-off position for another strike day by dawn on March 31st, in readiness to resume strike operations. It was vital that TF57 should resume its strikes on the enemy airfields because April 1st was L-Day for the American amphibious assault on the western coast of Okinawa. Pre-dawn CAP and ASP sweeps followed by the Fighter RAMROD launch at sunrise were now standing procedure and the force repeated the attacks of the previous strike days. A fighter TCAP (Target area Combat Air Patrol) of four fighters was now to be maintained over both Ishigaki and Miyako. The RAMROD of 8 Hellcats and 16 Corsairs reported that there appeared to be little activity at either island. Two bomber strikes of 11 Avengers each were flown off at 12:15 and 15:15, to strike Ishigaki airfield, installations and barracks. The Fleet had lost 2 aircraft in action and another 2 in accidents. One Hellcat JX889 flown by Sub-Lt H. Taylor RNVR was damaged when landing on, its starboard wing hit No. 4 pom-pom.
At 0650, on April 1st bogeys were detected by radar to the westward, closing at 210 knots at 8,000 feet. The RAMROD Hellcats and Corsairs were already on their way to Ishigaki and were recalled to intercept, additional fighters were flown off. Corsairs, Hellcats and Seafires engaged the enemy. Four were destroyed; Sub-Lt A.H. Smith in FN439 ('R6K' shot down 1 A6M ‘Zero’ shared with Seafire 08:25 and Lt. Cdr M.S. Godson in JW731 ('R6L') shot down a second in flames at 30 feet at 08:30. Another Seafire shot down another 1, a Corsair another, but the bulk reached the fleet.
The enemy planes commenced their attacks on the fleet at 07:10. One aircraft machine-gunned INDOMITABLE killing one rating and wounding two officers and four ratings. It made a similar attack on KING GEORGE V but without causing casualties. The fleet’s gunners reported it was difficult to identify enemy planes from our own since they were hard on the enemy heels. At 07:27 the first Kamikaze attack took place; one enemy plane dived into the base of INDEFATIGABLE's island. Four officers and ten ratings were killed, and sixteen others wounded. The flight deck was temporarily out of action, but later that day aircraft were again being operated from the ship, although at a reduced scale.
By mid-day the fleet was able to resume flight operations; at 12:15 a strike of 16 Avengers escorted by Corsairs was launched against Ishigaki to bomb airfields and runways. No activity was noted. At 14:30 reports were received from the TCAP over the islands that more aircraft had been sighted at Hirara and Ishigaki airfields. These were attacked by the TCAP and this was followed by a fighter RAMROD sweep. It was estimated that about 14 enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground during this attack and others damaged.
A second Kamikaze attack of 4 aircraft managed to evade INDOMITABLE’s CAP Hellcats and reached the Fleet at 17:30; one made a dive on VICTORIOUS, the attacker was damaged by the ship’s A.A. fire and the plane touched its wing on the flight deck edge spinning harmlessly into the sea where its bomb exploded clear of the ship. [It is unclear what happened to the other 3 attackers] At dusk the fleet disengaged and steamed south eastwards. The Fleet had lost 1 aircraft in action and another 3 in accidents. Sub-Lt Jenkins had a close call landing on in Hellcat JW867, he hit No. 2 barrier, floated across the deck and caught No. 10 wire.
At 05:10 on April 2nd INDOMITABLE’s 4 night readiness Hellcats were launched by moonlight to do a pre-dawn sweep for prowling enemy aircraft, 2 were allocated to Ishigaki, the other pair were destined for Miyako but returned to the ship with radio failures. The remaining two pressed on only to find no targets. A Fighter RAMROD of 17 Corsairs and Hellcats left at 06:30 to attack all the airfields; one Zeke was found over Ishigaki and was shot down by Hellcats; 2 aircraft were claimed destroyed on the ground. The RAMROD was recovered by 10:45 and the Fleet withdrew to proceed to fuelling area MIDGE One, maintaining a Fleet CAP of 12 aircraft until dark. The Fleet had lost 1 aircraft in action and another 1 in an accident.
Replenishment period 2, April 3 - 5:
There was no sign of the LSG
SPEAKER (CAP) and SLINGER (Replenishment), KEMPENFELT, PARRET, PHEASANT , WESSEX and WOODCOCK, Tankers AASE MAFRSK, ARNDALE, WAVE KING. AVON and WHIIMBREL with Tankers DINGLEDALE and WAVE MONARCH arrived on station the following day making a total of 5 tankers.
at first light on April 3rd, bad weather hampered the
rendezvous which was not made until 12:30. Between the 3rd and the 5th of April, Task Force 57 took on fuel and stores. For this replenishment period there were two CVEs in the LSG,
SPEAKER with 1840 squadron Hellcats embarked provided CAP for the Fleet Train while
SLINGER provided replacement aircraft and aircrews.
SLINGER issued 22 replacement aircraft to the fleet carriers and recovered 2 ‘flyable duds'. The fleet repositioned overnight on the 4th to replenishment area MOSQUITO One and refuelling resumed at 06:30; they disengaged at 19:30 and sailed for the operational area.
Iceberg strike series 3, April 6 - 7: TF57 resumed Strikes on the morning of April 6th. First launch was at 04:50 when four Hellcats were flown- off INDOMITABLE, two each to Miyako and Ishigaki airfields to attack any enemy aircraft taking off at dawn; 8 aircraft not previously noticed at Ishigaki were attacked. At 06:35 TCAPs to cover both islands were launched. The craters in the runway at Miyako airfield were observed to be filled in. Despite worsening weather conditions Avengers bombed and hit Hirara runway and town, and bombed Nobara, Sukhama and Myara airstrips causing fires. Fighters attacked radio and radar stations, sank two junks and blew up a bowser. At 12:30 One of 1844 squadron Hellcats returning from Miyako, JW741 ('131/W') flown by Sub-Lt J.R. Northeast, attacked and shot down a P1Y ‘Frances’ into the sea in flames. During an enemy attack at about 17:00 four bogeys were engaged and one dived on ILLUSTRIOUS, which took radical avoiding action. The Kamikaze’s wingtip hit the island, spinning the aircraft into the sea where the bomb exploded. Only slight damage and no casualties were caused. Hellcats from 1844 shot down 2 attackers; Sub-Lt Atkinson in JX762 shot down a D4Y ‘Judy’ which exploded on hitting the sea at 17:30, and Sub-Lt Wilson in JX886 ('126/W') took down another at 17:45 The Fleet had lost 4 aircraft; 1 to ‘friendly fire’ – 2 to bomb blast and one ditched on take-off. Enemy aircraft losses were 6 destroyed and 6 damaged, plus 2 junks were sunk.
The planned programme for April 7th was changed after receipt of intelligence indicating a possible mass attack by enemy forces, a planned bombardment was cancelled and the focus remained on maintaining a constant TCAP over the enemy airfields to deny the Japanese the use of their aircraft. CAPs for the fleet and the Islands were launched at 06:10. Again it was observed that bomb craters on Ishigaki had been filled in, and that Hirara and Nobara airfields appeared serviceable. Three bomber strikes were launched during the day to re-crater these fields. This was successfully carried out without loss. At 19:30 the fleet withdrew for their third replenishment period having successfully disabled all the target airfields, the Fleet had lost 2 aircraft in action after being hit by flak and another 4 from other causes. Enemy losses were 3 aircraft destroyed on the ground and 4 damaged. 4 fishing vessels and 3 luggers were damaged.
Replenishment period 3, April 8 - 9: At 06:00 on the 8th TF57 met the LSG CVEs SPEAKER (CAP) and STRIKER (Replenishment), CRANE, FINDHORN, PHEASANT, WHIRLWIND and KEMPENFELT, Tankers ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, SAN AMBROSIO, and SAN ADOLPHO.
in replenishment area COOTIE One, U.S. Task Group 52.1 having taken over the strike duty.
SPEAKER’s 1840 squadron again provided CAP for the Fleet Train while
STRIKER provided replacement aircraft and aircrews.
STRIKER issued 13 replacement aircraft and recovered 4 flyable but unserviceable aircraft and provided one Avenger crew to 854 squadron. Replenishment was completed by the afternoon of the 9th and TF 57 left COOTIE One to return to Sakishima.
The strike programme called for further attacks on the 10th and 11th before returning to Leyte on completion; this was changed when Admiral Spruance commanding the U.S. 5th Fleet, requested that TF57 instead strike airfields in Northern Formosa. The U.S. had been hard hit by kamikaze attacks originating from Shinchiku and Matsuyama airfields on Formosa; American carriers had wooden flight decks and a kamikaze hit could, and did, cause very serious damage, the British carriers all had armoured flight decks and so the risks of serious damage was far less. Admiral Rawlings agreed to the new tasking and the two strike days for Sakishima were cancelled and TF57 made for Formosa to conduct Operation ICEBERG OOLONG.
Iceberg strike series 4, April 10 - 12: ICEBERG OOLONG called for strikes on Shinchiku and Matsuyama airfields on Formosa on April 11th & 12th. The Fleet arrived in the flying-off position 30 miles South-West from Yonakumi Shima at 06:00 on the 11th but weather conditions were unfavourable and the strike was postponed for 24 hours. The next day A CAP of 16 Seafires was flown off at 06:15 and at 07:04 one flight of 4 from 887 squadron had an encounter with 3 eastbound ‘Zeke’ and a single ‘Tony’, one ‘Zeke’ was shot down and another damaged, the other two aircraft escaped. Two strikes, each of 24 Avengers and 20 escorting Hellcat and Corsairs, were flown off at 07:15. One strike bombed Shinchiku airfields with delay
fused bombs and attacked dispersals. There was flak but no airborne opposition. Due to cloud conditions over Matsuyama airfield the other strike attacked -their alternative target Kiirun harbour where hits were observed on the chemical plant, dock area and shipping. One flight investigated Matsuama and found little activity. A nearby railway station and factory were attacked and one DC-2 ‘Tess’ was destroyed on the ground. A bridge over the river south of Matsuama was destroyed and shipping at Tansui shot up. Enemy air attacks were successfully beaten off by Hellcats and Corsairs, The Seafire CAP did not engage.
At the end of the days strike a total of 17 enemy aircraft had been destroyed, INDOMITABLE’s Hellcats accounted for 5 of these; Sub-Lt W.M.C. Foster RNVR in JX814 ('132/W') destroyed 1 Ki-61 ‘Tony’ and 1 Ki43 ‘Oscar’ at 06:35, Sub-Lt Atkinson in JW779 (1839 machine) claimed 1 ‘Tony’ damaged at 14:45 and 1 ‘Zero’ shot down in flames at 16:00. At 18:00 Lt D.W. Langdon RNVR in JX886 ('126/W') shot down an ‘Oscar’ into the sea, and Sub-Lt W. Fenwick Smith in JX811 ('144/W') destroyed 1 ‘Zero’ at 18:30, and another destroyed at 18:45. TF57 lost 4 aircraft, one was Hellcat JW862 from 1839 squadron flown by Sub-Lt J.D.S. Smithwick RNVR of 1844 squadron; returning after combat he was hit by Flak and ditched, the aircraft burst into flames and sank, the pilot was not recovered.
A second round of strikes was planned for the 13th; at 05:50 four Hellcats were flown off, shortly after a raid was made by four D3A ‘Val’ bombers, one bomb narrowly missing INDOMITABLE. One was destroyed by gunfire from the fleet; a second was chased by the Hellcats and was probably hit. One Hellcat, JX814 ('132/W'), of 1844 was hit by friendly-fire while chasing an enemy through the gunnery barrage, the pilot, Lt C.R. Thurstan RCNVR was killed. A second formation was detected an hour later; Corsairs from 1830 Squadron destroyed two ‘Zekes’. The first Seafire CAP flights launched at 06:15. At 06:45 Avenger strikes were flown off to attack Matsuyama and Shinchiku airfields. The weather over Matsuyama was fair, runways, barracks and dispersal points were successfully bombed, and a petrol or ammunition dump blown up. Few aircraft were seen on the airfield. Fighters shot up about 12 aircraft on Giran airfield without apparent result. The other Avenger force bombed Shinchiku airfield through low cloud, hitting runway intersections and installations. No aircraft were lost in either of these strikes and there was no airborne opposition. At 13:00 CAP Hellcats intercepted 3 Zekes about 40 miles north of the Fleet but were unable to close within firing range. CAP Corsairs intercepted a Ki-46 ‘Dinah’ escorted by several ‘Tojos’, all the enemy aircraft escaped into cloud. After the bomber strikes were recovered the Fleet disengaged to the south eastward to refuel. Enemy losses were light, only 3 shot down with 5 destroyed on the ground (earlier claims of 12 turned out to be mainly dummies); TF57 lost 1 Hellcat by friendly-fire.
Replenishment period 4, April 14 - 15: At 06:30 on April 14th the Fleet made contact with the LSG
CVE SPEAKER (CAP), AVON, KEMPENFELT, PARRET, PHEASANT, WESSEX, WHIMBREL and WOODCOCK, Tankers ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, SAN AMBROSIO, WAVE KING, and WAVE MONARCH.
CVE SLINGER should have been on station as the replenishment carrier but had been withdrawn to return Australia for mechanical repairs; no other CVE was on station to take her place.
in position COOTIE One. The carrier FORMIDABLE, with destroyers KEMPENFELT and WESSEX were waiting and joined Task Force 57 relieving ILLUSTRIOUS which sailed for Leyte at 17:55 screened by URANIA and QUALITY. Replenishment continued on the 15th,
SPEAKER provided CAP but no replacement aircraft were available during this replenishment period; FORMIDABLE was at full strength however, carrying 848 Squadron’s 18 Avengers along with 1841 and 1842 Squadrons - each with 18 Corsairs.
Iceberg strike series 5, April 16 - 17: The Fleet was back on station off Sakishima in the early hours of April 16th 1945 to begin the final round of strikes for ICEBERG One. At 06:00 Fleet CAP was flown off, at 06:30 -the first strike took off to attack Ishigaki airfields. This attack, and a further one flown off at 12:30, left all the runways unserviceable. At 09:30 the second strike took off to attack Miyako airfields, where previous craters were found to be filled in; this attack, together with another flown off at 15:33, left all Miyako airfields out of action. Rocket-carrying Fireflies straffed a radar station at Miyako, and ground installations, barracks, and grounded aircraft generally were straffed. There was no airborne opposition over the targets and flak was moderate. The success in subduing the enemy airfields showed, only two enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and 1 in the air; TF57 lost 2 in combat and a further 3 due to a deck crash on INDEFATIGABLE. At 17:35 two Hellcats from 1844 engaged a C6N ‘Myrt’ 80 miles east of Formosa, Sub-Lt E.I. Hawkins RMVR in JX811 ('144/W'), and Lt. Cdr Godson in JX992 ('142/W'), shot it down in flames. During the raid on Hirara and Ishigaki airfields Lt Langdon was killed, flying in FN439 ('R6K') he decided to strafe Hirai Town barracks near Ishigaki, and was hit by flak, his aircraft broke up in mid-air. Enemy losses were again light, only 1 shot down and 1 destroyed on the ground; TF57 lost 2 in combat and 3 operationally.
On the morning of April 17th CAP was flown off at 06:00. At 0609 a few bogeys were detected to the north west of the Fleet and a flight of Hellcats were sent to investigate, Sub-Lt D.G. Jenkins RNVR in JX743 ('143/W') shot down one Zeke. At 1627 more bogeys were detected 110 miles west of the Fleet, this time Corsairs from 1834 squadron intercepted at 55 miles and 2 out of 6 Zekes were shot down, the others escaping in cloud. The first strike took off at 06:39. Efforts had been made to fill in the runway craters at Miyako but none at Ishigaki so the strike was sent to Ishigaki. Of the strikes sent to Miyako, the first two left all airfields unserviceable and the third attacked municipal buildings and barracks. TCAPs were maintained over both islands, but reported no activity on any airfields, all of which remained unserviceable at the end of the day. No operational aircraft could be found on the ground. The days tally was 3 enemy aircraft destroyed in combat and several small ships damaged. TF57 lost 1 Avenger. On completion of flying operations the fleet withdrew and proceeded overnight to replenishment area MOSQUITO One.
Replenishment period 5, April 18 - 19: During the 18th and 19th the fleet refuelled from the LSG CVE SPEAKER (CAP)), PHEASANT, KEMPENFELT, WOODCOCK and Tankers AASE MAERSK, ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, SAN AMADO, WAVE MONARCH,
SPEAKER again providing CAP fighters. No replacement aircraft were issued during this period.
Iceberg strike series 6, April 20: TF57 was back on station before dawn on April 20th to carry out their twelfth and final strike day of ICEBERG One. The pattern followed that of previous strike days, and the day ended with all airfields cratered; there were no enemy aircraft encountered by the strike groups or the Fleet, One Avenger from 848 Sqn, FORMIDABLE ditched, the crew was not recovered. At 19:10 the Fleet, set course for Leyte to meet the Fleet Maintenance Group for repairs and a replenishment period.
Repairs and Replenishment at Leyte, April 21 – May 1
32 days after sailing from Ulithi the Fleet anchored in San Pedro Bay, the Philippines at 12:45 on April 23rd close to the ships of the waiting Fleet Train. Task Force 57 had spent 26 of these days on operations, and had completed 12 strike days. During this period 71 enemy aircraft were destroyed, 33 in the air (14 to Hellcats) and 38 on the ground; 52 were damaged, 2 in the air (1 to Hellcats) and 50 on the ground. TF57 lost 19 aircraft to enemy action (2 were Hellcats), 2 to ‘friendly fire’ (1 Hellcat, 1 Seafire) and at least 37 were put out of action through operational incidents. Allied casualties were 16 pilots (3 from 1844 killed), 13 aircrew.
Damage repair and defect rectification was a priority; the bomb damage to INDEFATIGABLE’s Island was taken in hand by teams from the repair ship ARTIFEX and were completed in a week The Fleet embarked stores, ammunition, replacement aircraft and squadron aircrews were returned to full strength in readiness for the second phase of ICEBERG operations. Both 1839 and 1844 squadrons received some replacement aircraft and aircrew from
SPEAKER; 1840 squadron had been disbanded on the 27th to provide spare Hellcats and Pilots.
The squadron pilots displayed a high level of skill during ICEBERG One operations, there was only one recorded barrier crash which occurred on April 20th when Sub-Lt Foster in JX762 bounced, floated over all the wires and broke through No.2 barrier before being stopped in No.1 barrier.
ICEBERG phase Two
Replenishment period 6, May 3: Task Force 57 sailed from Leyte on at 06:30 on May 1st to return to their operational area off the Sakishima-Gunto group for a second series of 12 strike days. The Fleet refuelled from the LSG
CVEs RULER (885, CAP & ASP and STRIKER (Replenishment), AVON, CRANE KEMPENFELT,
WHIMBREL and Tankers CEDARDALE SAN ADOLPHO, and SAN AMBROSIO.
in Area MOSQUITO One during the day on the 3rd to top off their tanks before departing for the flying off position.
Iceberg strike series 7, May 4 - 5: The strike program for the first day included a bombardment of shore targets by the Battleships KING GEORGE V and HOWE and Cruisers
BLACK PRINCE, EURYALUS, SWIFTSURE, GAMBIA and UGANDA. Fleet CAP began launching at 05:40, 4
Hellcats from 5 Wing took off at 05:45. Five minutes later enemy air activity in the vicinity of Sakishima was detected, one small group approached the Fleet and
Hellcats intercepted; Sub-Lt W.G. Batham RNVR of 1844 in JX756 ('163/W'), and Sub-Lt R.E. Thomas RNVR of 1839 squadron in JW859, shot down one ‘Zeke’ in flames at 07:00 before the others escaped in cloud – both were replacement pilots on their first operational sortie with 5 Wing. A single Photo Recon Hellcat was launched at 07:40 to conduct the first SRU! Two of 1839 squadron aircraft, FN434 and JV303,
had been modified as Hellcat PR.II to give 5 Wing its own photo recon capability. These were
now employed for Strategic reconnaissance flights by the BPF, and were flown by Lt. T. D. Handley RN, and Sub-Lt R. E. Goadsby RNVR, who had previously trained in Tactical Recon techniques in Seafires
(Strategic reconnaissance Unit) sortie.
Strike ABLE and the first TCAP began launching at 06:05 from VICTORIOUS (11 Avengers and 8 Corsairs) and INDEFATIGABLE (9 Avengers); this was followed by strike BAKER at 08:15, INDOMITABLE supplied 12 Avengers and 8 Hellcats and they were joined by 12 Avengers from FORMIDABLE. At Ishigaki one runway of Miyako airfield was found serviceable and left well cratered. All enemy A.A. batteries appeared to be operational and opened fire on the strike aircraft. Runways at Hirara were well bombed and a direct hit on an A.A. position was observed.
At 10:00 TF57 split; the bombardment force detaching to take up position for the upcoming shoot. Conditions for bombardment appeared good and it was hoped that artillery fire would be effective in taking out A.A. batteries around the airfields. The bombardment commenced at mid-day, EURYALUS and BLACK PRINCE carried out a simultaneous ‘air burst’ shoot on the A.A. defence area of Nobara airfield. KING GEORGE V and HOWE bombarded Hirara airfield and the A.A. defence area to the north of the airfield, on completion of the ‘air burst’ shoot SWIFTSURE and GAMBIA bombarded Nobara airfield, and UGANDA Sukama air strip. Hellcats from 1844 acted as spotters for the bombardment by KING GEORGE V, piloted by Lt P. H. Mogridge, DSC, and Sub-Lt W. R. Queree. The spotting sortie was not a success due to poor radio communication between the aircraft and the Battleship.
Meanwhile at about 11:00 the Carrier group came under air attack. Three small groups of bogeys were detected to the westward, and were soon followed up by a fourth, in all 16 to 20 enemy aircraft, some acting as decoys. Fighters engaged one group working round to the southward, but one Kamikaze group penetrated to the carriers and was first detected when at 11:31 when a ‘Zeke’ was seen diving from a great height on to FORMIDABLE. The Kamikaze crashed into the flight deck near-the island causing serious damage; casualties were 8 killed and 47 wounded; 11 Corsair and 10 Avengers were damaged beyond repair, both flight deck barriers were damaged, the forward one was irreparable. The flight deck suffered a 2 foot square hole with an indentation measuring 10 feet square and 2 feet deep at the centre. Splinters from the armoured deck passed through the hangar deck causing damage to various compartments. Four minutes later another ‘Zeke’ was engaged by FORMIDABLE‘s 4.5 inch guns and temporarily disappeared in cloud. It soon reappeared diving steeply at the ship. Extreme evasive manoeuvres were made as the plane approached. It was heavily engaged by close range weapons and set on fire; it flattened out at the last moment, appeared to make a deck landing on the flight deck only to continue on over the side, taking the radar arrays of the port amidships gun director with it. The bomb appeared to explode shortly-after the plane submerged.
The Fleet CAP were kept busy, early probes proved to be decoy moves but at 11:20 a Seafire shot down a ‘Hamp’ while at 11:25 Corsairs engaged the third group of detected bogies. These turned out to be ‘Zekes’, but the Corsairs were only able to shoot down one before losing sight of the remaining three. At 11:42 INDOMITABLE was narrowly missed by another ‘Zeke’ which dived steeply on her, the close range weapons of the carrier and her escort QUALITY caused the aircraft to burst into flames and it crashed into the sea about 10 yards off the starboard bow of the ship. No damage or casualties were sustained in either of the last two attacks.
At 11:45 a flight of 4 Hellcats (Lt P.D.C Street RNVR in JV115 and Sub-Lt D. S. Creabo RNVR in JX737 ('162/W') from 1839 and Lt J. W. C. Strit [?] in JW892 with Sub-Lt M. F. Stringfield RNZNVR in JW741 ('131/W') from 1844) engaged and shot down a B6N ‘Jill’ bomber and two Seafires from 894 shot down an A6M3 ‘Zero’. This was followed at 12:45 by two Seafires from 887 shooting down a D3A ‘Val’. At about 15:15 Corsairs from VICTORIOUS' intercepted and shot down a ‘Judy’ to the northward. At 17:21 another ‘Judy’ was shot down from 24,000 feet to the eastward by fighters. A few minutes later at 17:30 Seafires from INDEFATIGABLE intercepted 4 Zekes to the southward, two aircraft from 894 squadron destroyed one each, while a Seafire from 887 got another before the other escaped to the northward.
FORMIDABLE‘s damage control and repair teams had her patched up enough that she was able to land on 13 of her Corsairs by 17:00. One of 1844 squadron’s Hellcats was another victim of ‘friendly fire’, Sub-Lt A.R. Thomson RNZNVR returning for an emergency landing at 17:33 in JV310 was mistakenly fired on by FORMIDABLE and hit, he was forced to ditch, but was rescued unhurt by UNDAUNTED. When the Fleet withdrew the tally was 14 enemy aircraft destroyed by fighters, 2 shot down by gunfire, and several small vessels around the islands-were damaged. TF57 losses totalled 15, only 1 in combat, 14 due to operational causes. 10 Avengers were lost in FORMIDABLE due to Kamikaze attack. Hellcats from 5 WING flew 41 sorties; 2 strike Air Group Leader flights, 2 SRU, 2 spotting and 35 CAP.
When the Fleet returned to the Islands on May 5th, the first CAP was launched at 05:45; the Hellcat CAP was doubled for the first launch to 8, these launching at 05:50. The now usual round of runway cratering strikes was carried out with 10 Avengers from INDOMITABLE taking off for strike ABLE at 08:45, the next CAP flight of 4 hellcats also launched at this time. At 11:05 both PR Hellcats were launched to conduct SRU flights, 8 more Hellcats were launched on the Wing’s first spell of Target CAP duty just before the Avengers of strike ABLE landed on. Another 8 of IINDOMITABLE’s Avengers were launched at 13:57 as part of strike CHARLIE. The TCAP Hellcats dropped five 500-lb bombs and staffed Nobara airfield where 2 operational single engined aircraft were attacked but refused to burn. The previous day’s bombardment appeared to have been successful as the strike groups reported that no flak at all was encountered over Miyako. Runways on Miyako and Ishigaki were bombed, and all of them left unserviceable by the end of the day. Only 1 enemy aircraft was destroyed in combat, 3 definite and 2 probable destroyed on the ground. TF57 lost 3 aircraft. The Fleet withdrew at 19:05 and proceeded to replenishment area. Hellcats from 5 Wing flew 42 sorties; 2 SRU, and 24 Fleet CAP and 16 TCAP. The last CAP Hellcats landed on at 19:05 and the fleet withdrew setting course for the replenishment area.
Replenishment period 7, May 6 - 7: TF57 met up with the LSG
RULER (885 CAP & ASP), STRIKER (Replenishment), CRANE, NAPIER, NORMAN, NEPAL, AVON, WHIMBREL, PHEASANT, and Tankers CEDARDALE, SAN ADOLPHO, SAN AMBROSIO WAVE KING, and WAVE MONARCH.
at 06:30 on May 6th in h area COOTIE, US Task Group 52.1 covered Sakishima. During the day
STRIKER transferred 15 replacement aircraft to the Fleet and embarked 34 casualties from FORMIDABLE before sailing for Leyte at 19:15 in company with KEMPENFELT. At 18:45 the Fleet detached from the Tanker Group for the night. At 06:15 on May 7th fuelling recommenced. Fuelling and exchange of stores, mail and correspondence was completed by 14:00, when the Fleet disengaged from the tankers and took departure for the operations area. During the replenishment period further repairs were made to FORMIDABLE’s bomb damage and she was fully operational when the Fleet left area COOTIE.
Iceberg strike series 8, May 8 -9: TF57 relieved US Task Group 52.1 at 05:15 on May 8th and prepared for another day of strikes. INDOMITABLE launched 8 Hellcats for CAP duties at 06:03 followed by another 8 at 09:04 for TCAP duty. A planned bombardment was cancelled when the weather deteriorated but 4 bomber strikes were still planned, however the fighter TCAPs over Miyako and Ishigaki reported poor visibility and all operations for the day were cancelled. The TCAP Hellcats landed back on at 19:49 and the fleet withdrew. Hellcats from 5 Wing flew 16 sorties; 8 Fleet CAP and 8 TCAP. News of Victory in Europe reached the Fleet.
The next day brought better weather. The first CAPs were flown off at 05:45; INDOMITABLE launching 8 Hellcats at 05:50. These were followed at 08:26 by 8 TCAP and 2 SRU Hellcats plus 11 Avengers for strike ABLE to attack the airfield at Miyako, these were joined by 8 Avengers from FORMIDABLE tasked to attack the airfield at Ishigaki; one TCAP aircraft had to return to the ship with engine trouble. The first TCAP and the 2 SRU aircraft landed on at 10:49; one of 1839 squadron’s Photo Recon Hellcats JV303, flown by Sub-Lt R.E. Goadsby, was hit by slight flak 12,000 feet and holed in the tail over Ishigaki while taking vertical photographs of target airfields. The Avengers from strike ABLE had landed on by 11:20. At 13:44 seven more TCAP Hellcats and 8 Avengers launched for strike CHARLIE for Ishigaki, an eighth TCAP Hellcat launched at 14:01 but one of the original launch returned at 14:06 with a fuel leak. Strike Charlie also involved 8 RP armed Fireflies from INDEFATIGABLE. Both CAP and TCAPs of 8 Hellcats was maintained throughout the day, CAPs were rescued to the normal 4 at 15:45 and the last TCAP landed on at 16:30. A total of four bomber strikes were carried out during the day, two to each island, again all runways were re-cratered; a direct hit was scored on one aircraft on the ground at Miyako. A motor transport park at Ishigaki was attacked, three vehicles being destroyed.
That afternoon the Kamikaze suicide planes struck the Fleet hard and caused significant damage; at 16:45 bogeys were detected very low 22 miles to the westward, coming in fast. Four Seafires intercepted at 15 miles, but allowed themselves to be decoyed away by one aircraft which they shot down. Meanwhile four other enemy planes evaded another patrol of Seafires, and after climbing to about 3,000 feet penetrated the Fleets defences. From 16:50 onwards the Fleet was radically manoeuvred by emergency turns at 22 knots. VICTORIOUS came under attack first; the enemy was hit by close range weapons but crashed onto the flight deck near the forward lift. The resulting fire was quickly brought under control, but the bomb explosion holed the flight deck, put the accelerator out of action, rendered one 4.5 inch gun unserviceable, and damaged one lift hoisting motor.
At 16:56 a second Kamikaze made a shallow power glide from astern on VICTORIOUS. Despite being hit by heavy gunfire, and on fire, it hit the flight deck aft a glancing blow, and burning furiously passed over the side. Damage to the ship was confined to one arrester unit out of action, a 40 mm. gun director destroyed, and four Corsairs on deck damaged beyond repair. Casualties from both these attacks were three killed, four seriously injured, and 15 wounded. At 16:57 a third Kamikaze made a pass at VICTORIOUS but then shifted target to the Battleship HOWE further ahead; the attacker was hit at a more reasonable range, and failed to find a target, passing over the Quarterdeck to crash in flames 100 yards beyond HOWE. At 17:05 a fourth Kamikaze approached FORMIDABLE and then INDOMITABLE, being engaged by both ships without apparent result. It then turned and dived into the after deck park of FORMIDABLE. There was a large explosion and fire and a great deal of smoke. Her speed was reduced to 15 knots to aid control of the fire which was extinguished at 17:20. Six Corsairs and one Avenger were destroyed by fire on deck. The explosion blew out a flight deck rivet and thus allowed burning petrol to fall into the hangar which had to be sprayed. As a result a further three Avengers and eight Corsairs were damaged. Eighteen aircraft were put out of action, four Avengers and 14 Corsairs, of which three Avengers and seven Corsairs were flyable duds. Casualties were fortunately light—one killed and a few injured.
At 17:55 FORMIDABLE reported being fit to land on aircraft and that during the engagement she had definitely shot down one enemy by gunfire; she had only four bombers and 11 fighters serviceable. VICTORIOUS could operate aircraft at a reduced rate due to the damage to her forward lift.
Vice-Admiral Rawlings decided to withdraw to fuel, sort out and make good the damage, and return to strike on the 12th/13th May; at 19:50 course was set for replenishment area COOTIE. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 40 sorties on May 9th; 2 SRU, 24 Fleet CAP and 14 TCAP.
Replenishment period 8, May 10 - 11:
TF57 met the LSG CVEs RULER (885, CAP & ASP)and SPEAKER (Replenishment), NEPAL, CRANE, PHEASANT, WHYALIA, BALLARAT, WOODCOCK, WEASEL (Tug) and Tankers AASE MAERSK, ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, and SAN
AMADO. at 06:10 on May 10th. During the day 6 of 1841 squadrons Corsair flyable duds were flown off from FORMIDABLE to
SPEAKER and 7 replacements were issued; 20 casualties were embarked from FORMIDABLE and VICTORIOUS for passage to the Hospital Ship OXFORDSHIRE at Leyte. At 19:15 the Fleet disengaged from the Tanker Group for the night. Fuelling and storing continued on the 11th and on completion the Fleet disengaged at 16:40 and departed for the operational area.
Iceberg strike series 9, May 12 - 13:
Beginning at 05:40 INDOMITABLE launched 11 Avengers for
Strike ABLE to target airfields on Ishigaki Island with 4
Hellcats for escort and 4 more for the first island TCAP,
all were airborne by 05:46. This force was joined by a
further 9 Avengers from FORMIDABLE to target Miyara
airfield, INDOMITABLE’S bombers targeted Ishigaki airfield. The first 8 CAP Hellcats launched at 08:31 along with both SRU Hellcats for a photo sweep over the target area. Ten of the Avengers from strike ABLE landed on at 09:55; one had ditched 80 miles west of the fleet due to engine failure, two of the escorting Hellcats were ordered to circle their position. The crew were rescued by the guard submarine USS BLUEFISH and the 2 Hellcats landed on at 10:34.. During the first TCAP the commanding officer of 1844 squadron, Lt. Cdr M.S. Godson RNVR, was killed when his aircraft JV284 (an 1839 machine) was hit by flak during a dive bombing run on the dispersal area at Hirara airfield on Miyako, his aircraft caught fire and went into a shallow dive while turning away for the coast and exploded on hitting the ground.
Five Bomber strikes were planned but a second strike on Ishigaki, Strike CHARLIE, was cancelled owing to weather conditions. The 2 SRU Hellcats landed on at 11:34 and another 8 CAP Hellcats launched at 13:53. One SRU Hellcat was launched at 15:43 to photograph an earlier mission; an oil leak had obscured the camera lens and the film was not usable. It returned at 18:18 just after the Dusk CAP of 4 Hellcats had launched. The airfields on both Miyako and Ishigaki islands were again suppressed and runways re-cratered, and A.A. emplacements and dispersal areas were straffed. No enemy aircraft were airborne in the vicinity of the Fleet or islands during the day. At 19:30 the dusk CAP was landed on and the Fleet withdrew to the southward for the night. TF57 lost 5 aircraft, 2 in combat and 3 operationally; 3 enemy aircraft were probably damaged on the ground and a 200 ton coaster damaged. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 39 sorties on May 12th; 4 Strike, 3 SRU, 24 Fleet CAP and 8 TCAP.
The fleet arrived off the islands on the 13th to launch another five strikes; 8 Hellcats for the island TCAP launched at 05:43, one flight for Miyako the other a recon of Ishigaki, they reported that Ishigaki runways were again serviceable and a thin strip of Miyara runway had been repaired. At Miyako and Hirara one runway, and at Nobara both runways, had been made possibly serviceable. The usual four bomber strikes were flown during the day, three to Miyako and one to Ishigaki, Strike CHARLIE comprising 8 Avengers and a 4 Hellcat escort launched at 10:55 and joined with 8 Avengers from FORMIDABLE. At Miyako all runways were left unserviceable, a barracks was straffed, 8 barges were hit, also 3 major oil fires were started, At Ishigaki camouflaged buildings and storage dumps were hit, as were two radio stations one of which was left in flames. Hellcats from 5 Wing began Fleet CAP duties at 08:08 with 8 launching together with the 2 SRU aircraft, one of which returned to the ship with radio failure. CAP reverted to one flight of 4 Hellcats when next launched at 16:10. The 2 SRU Hellcats were again launched to photo recon the islands at 15:31, returning at 18:17. Again there was no enemy air activity near the Fleet or islands. At 19:25 the dusk CAP Hellcats were landed on and the Fleet withdrew to refuel. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 43 sorties on May 13th; 4 Strike, 3 SRU, 24 Fleet CAP and 12 TCAP.
Replenishment period 9, May 14 - 15: At 0630 on May 14th TF57 met the first elements of the LSG CVE RULER (885, CAP & ASP), CRANE, WOODCOCK, PHEASANT, WEASEL and Tankers ARNDALE and DINGLEDALE. Second group comprised
CVE STRIKER (Replenishment), NIZAM and Tankers WAVE KING and WAVE MONARCH. in area COOTIE One, a second group was delayed, but were on station by 10:00. The hospital ship TJITJALENGKA arrived at the replenishment area later that afternoon prepared to accept any future casualties when the Fleet withdrew from operations. The replenishment carrier
STRIKER transferred 14 replacement aircraft and recovered one flyable dud. At 19:10 the Fleet disengaged from the Tanker Group for the night. A further 6 aircraft were transferred and one flyable dud received by
STRIKER during the second day of replenishment. At 17:05 on the 15th the Fleet disengaged from the Tanker Group and departed for the operations area.
Iceberg strike series 10, May 16 - 17:
At 05:40 on May 16th Fleet and island CAPs plus the first bomber strike for Miyako were flown off; INDOMITABLE launched 8 Hellcats for CAP. On this occasion five bomber strikes were to be sent to the islands during the day, three to Miyako and two to Ishigaki. INDOMITABLE provided bombers and escort for strike BAKER and bombers for strike DOG. The launch for strike BAKER started at 07:31 when the first of 11 Avengers was boosted by the ship’s catapult, an escort of 4 Hellcats, another flight of 4 for TCAP and the 2 SRU aircraft launched at 07:42. They formed up with 7 Avengers from FORMIDABLE and another 8 from INDEFATIGABLE. On reaching Ishigaki airfield INDOMITABLE’s Avengers bombed the intact East-West runway while FORMIDABLE’s target was a dispersal point while INDEFATIGABLE’s aircraft attacked excavations at the North-Eastern end of the main runway. 5 Wing maintained a CAP of 8 Hellcats throughout the day, the next launched took off at 10:56 just before the aircraft from strike BAKER and the SRU aircraft began landing on at 11:06. At 13:25 8 Avengers for strike DOG and 8 CAP Hellcats were launched, 8 more Avengers from FORMIDABLE joined the force to bomb the North-South runway at Miyara airfield. One SRU Hellcat was launched at 13:55. An additional flight of 4 Hellcats launched at 18:24 as Dusk CAP. All CAP and the SRU Hellcats landed on at 19:13, the remaining Fleet CAPs landed on at 19:35 and the Fleet withdrew to the southward for the night. No enemy aircraft were airborne during the day.
All target runways were made unserviceable; four new aircraft which appeared operational were straffed but did not burn, 3 others were damaged; 10 small craft of various classes were damaged, and four of them left in a sinking condition; a large explosion was caused in Ohama town; 5 direct hits with S.A.P. bombs were made on a large cave shelter. TF57 lost 5 aircraft, 1 in combat and 4 operationally; 7 enemy aircraft were damaged on the ground. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 47 sorties on May 16th; 4 Strike, 3 SRU, 36 Fleet CAP and 4 TCAP.
On the morning of May 17th Fleet and island CAPs were flown off at 05:40 from a position 85 miles from Miyako. 5 Wing maintained a CAP of 8 Hellcats throughout the day. It had been planned to send in four bomber strikes, two to each island, but the second strike to Ishigaki was cancelled
owing to damage to VICTORIOUS’ barriers caused by deck crashes, and the very light winds that prevailed throughout the day. INDOMITABLE provided bombers and escort for strike BAKER and bombers for strike DOG. The launch for strike BAKER started at 07:39 when the first of 11 Avengers was boosted by the ship’s catapult, an escort of 4 Hellcats, another flight of 4 for Air Sea Rescue CAP launched at 07:39. They formed up with 8 Avengers from FORMIDABLE and another 8 from INDEFATIGABLE. On reaching Ishigaki airfield INDOMITABLE’s Avengers repeated the previous day’s strike bombing the East-West runway at Ishigaki while FORMIDABLE’s target was the main runway at Miyara, INDEFATIGABLE’s aircraft dropped their bombs on Ohama town. Eight Avengers for Strike DOG launched at 13:28 and joined 8 Avengers and a Corsair fighter escort from FORMIDABLE for a strike at targets at Miyara airfield. All airfields were left unserviceable except Miyara which may not have been sufficiently cratered. Ohama and Hirara towns were bombed, and barges and small craft were well straffed. CAPs were maintained until 19:15 when the Fleet withdrew to fuel. TF57 lost 5 aircraft, 1 in combat and 4 operationally, including an 1844 Hellcat JX888 flown by Sub-Lt G.H. Horne RNVR, his Port wheel hit Y-turret landing on and floated into the barrier. No enemy aircraft were damaged or destroyed. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 43 sorties on May 17th; 4 Strike, 35 Fleet CAP and 4 TCAP.
Replenishment period 10, May 18 - 19:
At 05:45 May 18th the Fleet met with the LSG CVEs RULER (885, CAP & ASP) and CHASER (Replenishment), CRANE, GRENVILLE, NORMAN,
WHIMBREL, BENDIGO, PARRETT, WEASEL and Tankers SAN AMBROSIO, ,SAN ADOLPHO, and CEDARDALE. ASIS ROBERT MAERSK in area COOTIE One. At 10:30 a serious fire broke out in FORMIDABLE; the guns of a Corsair in the hangar were accidentally fired into the Avenger parked in front, this exploded starting the fire. It became clear right away that the fire curtains which should have automatically partitioned the hangar were out of action due to earlier Kamikaze attacks. The fire was eventually extinguished by drenching the hangar with sea water; 7 Avengers and 21 Corsairs were damaged, ranging from complete write-offs to flyable duds. By the evening she reported being able to resume limited flying operations. The replenishment carrier
CHASER had transferred 3 Seafires, 2 Hellcats, 1 Firefly, 2 Avengers and 1 Corsair to Task Force 57. On the second day of replenishment the Ammunition Carrier ROBERT MAERSK joined the Logistic Support Group and
CHASER recovered 3 flyable, but unserviceable, Avengers and 1 Firefly.
Iceberg strike series 11, May 20 - 21: At 05:15 on the morning of May 20th the Fleet ran into dense fog approaching the flying off position; at 05:24 the Destroyer QUILLIAM, endeavouring to take up station astern of INDOMITABLE to provide additional A.A fire against Kamikaze attacks, collided with her. Serious damage to the bow of QUILLIAM but only superficial above water damage was caused to the carrier. QUILLIAM was eventually taken in toe by the tug WEASEL for the long tow to Leyte.
The weather prevented any flying until 07:45 when CAPS and the first strike were flown off. Although 4 bomber strikes were planned, weather conditions had not improved sufficiently and only strike ABLE was to reach Miyako with great difficulty and then only bombed Hirara town through a clear patch of cloud while Fireflies fired rockets at ground installations. Strike BAKER and CHARLIE were cancelled. INDOMITABLE launched 10 Avengers and an escort of 4 Hellcats for Strike DOG at 15:30 for Ishigaki but was forced to return by the weather before reaching the coast line; two of the escort were carrying one 500-lb bomb each and these were dropped on a target of opportunity at Miyuguni after failing to reach Miyako airfield . All CAPS had landed on by 19:00 and the Fleet withdrew to the southward for the night. The limited strike resulted in 1 junk and 3 barges damaged. TF57 lost 4 aircraft, 1 in combat and 3 operationally, including Hellcat JX890 of 1839 Squadron flown by Sub-Lt .J.H. Clark RNVR who lost sight of the DLCO but continued his approach to land on his own, his hook caught No. 2 wire and his main wheels hit Y turret. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 43 sorties on May 20th; 4 Strike, 20 Fleet CAP and 4 TCAP.
The following day poor weather was still a concern and the flying off time was delayed, CAPs and the first strike were flown off at 06:55. Five bomber' strikes were sent in, three to Miyako and two to Ishigaki. Strikes for Miyako were flown off at 06:55, 12:10 and 16:10. INDOMITABLE provided bombers and escort for strikes BAKER and DOG. The launch for strike BAKER started at 08:54 when 8 Avengers and an escort of 4 Hellcats, followed by another flight of 3 for TCAP and the 2 SRU aircraft. They formed up with 6 Avengers from INDEFATIGABLE; one of the escort Hellcats returned to INDOMITABLE with radio failure at 09:07. On reaching Ishigaki airfield both groups bombed the intact East-West runway and surroundings. All aircraft from the Strike BAKER launch, plus the TCAP and SRUs began landing on at 12:17.
The 7 Avengers and 4 Hellcats for Strike DOG launched at 14:38 for another strike on Ishigaki airfield, they were joined by 8 Avengers from INDEFATIGABLE. The first attack was made by the Avengers of from INDEFATIGABLE who successfully struck the targets selected by the Air Group Leader in the escort force; when it came to the turn of the Avengers from INDOMITABLE the airfield was completely obscured by cloud and they were ordered to fly to the North-Western tip of the island and attack any target they could find. The aircraft from strike DOG began landing on at 18:16, the last CAP Hellcats were on board by 19:27.
During the day Nobara and Hirara runways were well plastered with bombs, 2 fires started in the warehouse area of Hirara town, and a radio weather station was hit along with a tented camp straffed. Both runways at Ishigaki airfield were left unserviceable and Miyara airfield was also hit. At 14:23 a high snooper was detected approaching the Fleet from the westward. The enemy, a ‘Myrt’ was intercepted at 14:42 by CAP Hellcats, 36 miles to the south westward at 26,000 feet: it was shot down 4 minutes later by Lt Atkinson and his flight. At 1930 the dusk CAP were landed on and the Fleet withdrew to refuel. TF57 lost 3 aircraft, all operationally. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 32 sorties on May 21st; 7 Strike, 2 SRU, 32 Fleet CAP and 3 TCAP.
Replenishment period 11, May 22 - 23:
On the morning of May 22nd TF57 net with the LSG CVEs RULER (885, CAP & ASP), CHASER (Replenishment) and SPEAKER (Replenishment), CRANE, NAPIER, AVON and FINDHORN and Tankers AASE MAERSK, SAN AMADO, WAVE KING, and WAVE MONARCH,. ASIS ROBERT MAERSK. for the last full replenishment period of the ICEBERG operations, two replenishment carriers.
SPEAKER, were on station. During the day
CHASER transferred 10 aircraft to the Fleet,
SPEAKER issued 1 Avenger to 849 squadron on VICTORIOUS. At 18:00 FORMIDABLE was detached to proceed to Manus and then onward to Sydney to expedite repair of her battle damage. She was escorted by KEMPENFELT and WHIRLWIND, both of whom were due for refit. At 19:15 the Fleet disengaged from the Tanker Group for the night.
Replenishment continued on the 23rd;
SPEAKER issued 3 Fireflies to 1770 squadron on INDEFATIGABLE and
CHASER transferred 4 more aircraft. During the day 2 Hellcats from
CHASER crashed into the sea: neither pilot was recovered. At 18:00
CHASER, SPEAKER and NAPIER were detached for Manus, leaving
RULER with the Tanker Group. At 18:15
the Fleet, now operating only 3 carriers, detached from the Tanker Group taking departure for the operations area for one final strike period.
Iceberg strike series 12, May 24 - 25:
The final two strike days had a modified strike plan, only four Strikes were to be launched on each of the two days, with the launch time for the first, and subsequent Strikes retarded by 2 hours. This was partly in response to a request from the Americans for a late afternoon strike and partly due to reduced aircraft availability with the departure of FORMIDABLE from the force. Poor weather again intervened, the first Strike group did not launch until 10:45 and because of the delay only 3 Strikes were despatched on the 24th. INDOMITABLE provided bombers for strikes ABLE and CHARLIE, plus Hellcat escort for the later.
The first Hellcat launch of the day was at 09:25 when a flight of 4 was flown off to perform a weather recon. Aircraft for strike ABLE began taking off at 10:47 with 8 Avengers, and 4 Hellcats for TCAP. A further 4 Hellcats were also launched at this time but landed on again 10 minutes later, presumably this was done to allow other aircraft to be ranged and others returned to the hangar deck. Escort for strike ABLE was provided by 7 RP armed Fireflies from INDEFATIGABLE; the target area for both strikes was airfields on Miyako. Seiken ABLE scored 8 hits on the runway at Hirara and 17 hits on the two runways at Nobara; a radio station was rocketed, as were camouflaged buildings in the wooded area near Hirara where one large explosion was observed. The Avengers landed on at 13:20. One SRU Hellcat was launched with the forenoon CAP at 12:45 to do a pass over the target areas, this returned at 16:00.
Strike CHARLIE launched 15:51, this time only 6 of INDOMITABLE’s Avengers took off with the Air Group leader’s escort of 4 Hellcats, they were joined by 6 more Avengers from INDEFATIGABLE. The programmed target was Ishigaki Island but this was changed just prior to launch to Miyako, this was shown to the strike leader by blackboard as he sat in his Avenger just prior to launch but had not passed to the Air Group Leader, Commander Luard, his Hellcat had already taken off and caused some confusion on reaching the target area. Hirara town and Nishibara village were hit by 12 and 4 bombs respectively and the Hellcats straffed soft targets in surrounding villages including a barracks. The strike landed back on board at 17:44, and the last 8 CAP Hellcats were recovered at 18:10. There was no enemy air activity in the vicinity and the last Fleet CAP was landed on at 19:07, the Fleet withdrew to the southward for the night at 19:40. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 29 sorties on May 24th; 4 Strike, 1 SRU, 16 Fleet CAP, and 8 TCAP.
On the final day of ICEBERG operations four strikes were carried out, INDOMITABLE provided bombers for strikes ABLE and CHARLIE, plus Hellcat escort for the later. The first aircraft from INDOMITABLE began launching at 06:00 8 Hellcats for CAP and 3 for TCAP. These were followed by 8 Avengers for strike ABLE. A fourth TCAP Hellcat launched at 06:20 but at 06:24 one of the flight returned with an electrical fault and one minute later a second landed on with an oil leak; the other two continued on mission. The escort for strike ABLE was provided by 8 RP armed Fireflies from INDEFATIGABLE; the target was Hirara airfield on Miyako. The strike found poor weather conditions over the target and only scored 12 hits but disabled both runways. One Avenger pilot lost his bearings in the cloud and found himself over Nobara airfield; he dropped his four 500-lb bombs anyway, scoring 4 hits on the Northeast/Southwest runway. Strike ABLE landed on at 12:20.
Beginning at 11:35 8 Avengers and 4 Hellcats were launched for strike CHARLIE, one avenger returned to the ship with hydraulic failure. They rendezvoused with 8 Avengers from INDEFATIGABLE and set course for Miyako. INDOMITABLE’s Avengers bombed the runways at Nobara airfield while those from INDEFATIGABLE attacked the suicide boat base north of Hirara and a Barge base at Osaki and a fire was started at Sukama town. The escort Hellcats flowed behind making strafing runs. The aircraft from strike CHARLIE began landing on at 14:03. The last 8 CAP Hellcats were recovered at 17:02, all other aircraft were recovered by 19:10 and the Fleet withdrew. Hellcats from 5 Wing had flown 38 sorties on May 25th; 4 Strike, 32 Fleet CAP and 2 TCAP.
At 22:00 Vice-Admiral Rawlings, Commander TF57, in the Battleship KING GEORGE V screened by TROUBRIDGE, TENACIOUS and TERMAGANT had detached and set course for Guam. The remainder of the Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral Vian, Commander AC 1, set course for area COOTIE and rendezvous with the LSG Tanker group CVE RULER (885, CAP & ASP), AVON ,CRANE, and FINDHORN and Tankers AASE MAERSK, SAN AMADO, WAVE KING, and WAVE MONARCH. to top off the ships with fuel as necessary for them to reach Manus. During the period March 26th to May 25th the BPF had flown 5,335 sorties.
May 27th 1945 the BPF became Task Force 37 (TF37) when it transferred to the control of Admiral William Halsey's United States Third Fleet. TF37 arrived at Manus on May 30th and departed for Sydney the following day. INDOMITABLE was to undergo a refit on arriving back In Australia, she was relieved by IMPLACABLE; she disembarked her squadrons to
RNAS Nowra on June 5th before entering Sydney harbour and eventually she entered the Captain Cook Graving Dock at the Garden Island dockyard for repairs and refit. The following day PR Hellcat FN434 suffered minor damage at
Nowra when Sub-Lt I.G. Dymott RNVR swung off runway, braked to avoid a ditch and nosed over.
Reallocated to the 11th Carrier Air Group
The squadron personnel were granted leave while the ship was out of commission but training continued while at
Nowra. At the end of June the Admiralty implemented a new system of classification for carrier air wings, adopting the American practice one carrier would embark a single Carrier Air Group (CAG) which would encompass all the ships squadrons; 5 WING was disbanded on June 30th and its squadrons, 1839 and 1844, became part of the new 11th Carrier Air Group (11 CAG) along with 857 Avengers with Commander N.S. Luard RN as Air Group Commander. The Group was also intended to have 1772 Fireflies but this squadron was reallocated to 7 CAG.
Detached flight in HMS FORMIDABLE
Although the new Air group was to remain in at
RNAS Nowra until the ship completed her refit a detachment from 5 Wing was embarked in FORMIDABLE when she sailed with the BPF from Sydney on June 21st. This consisted of 4 Hellcat IIs for Dawn and Dusk CAPs, and the 2 Hellcat PR.IIs to continue their Strategic Recon work; these were the only elements of the Wing to see action during operations against the Japanese mainland. The decision to add them to the defence of TF37 paid off on the evening of July 25th when a group of Japanese Navy B7A ‘Grace‘ torpedo bombers attempted to attack the fleet. Between 19:10 and 19:30 three of them were destroyed and another damaged before the remainder broke away; Sub-Lt Mackie in Hellcat JV782 shot down one while Lt Atkinson in Hellcat JX772 shot down 2 others and claimed a fourth as a probable kill. These were two of 1844 squadron’s best pilots, Sub-Lt Mackie had 3 and Lt Atkinson 4 confirmed kills in combat.
During this encounter Sub-Lt Mackie lost his electrical system and radios; he became disoriented, having lost contact with Lt Atkinson and had no means of locating the carrier which was blacked-out. He was close enough to observe a brief light in the distance as the carrier switched on the landing lights for as Lt Atkinson to land on. He flew to where he had seen the light and safely landed back on FORMIDABLE.
Reoccupation of Hong Kong
INDOMITABLE emerged from Dockyard hands in late July. After a post-refit shakedown, she embarked her Air Group on August 3rd to conduct flying training before returning to combat duty; one of 1844’s aircraft, JX737 ('162/W'), was put out of commission on the first day when Sub-Lt T.S. Speak
RNVR of 1839 taxied down the forward lift well after landing. Another was damaged when Sub-Lt E.P.A. Blore RNVR in JX809 made a heavy landing with the ship pitching, the starboard oleo was twisted and broken but did
not collapse. On the 5th Sub-Lt Blore had a second incident when he put a wheel over the deck edge after catching an arrester wire in JX893; Sub-Lt Speak also had a second incident, this time in JZ935 ('145/W') when he caught No. 10 wire and continued on into No. 2 barrier. On August 7th, Sub-Lt Rollins in JW974 crashed into the island structure and the aircraft caught fire, he was safely rescued. There was one final landing incident on the 8th, Sub-Lt G.H. Smith RNVR in JX860 drifted to port and caught No. 6 wire but ran off the deck edge into Pom-Pom mount. Her squadrons disembarked again on the 11th.
INDOMITABLE was allocated to be the Flagship of the new 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron (Flag, Rear Admiral Harcourt, AC 11) with the new Light Fleet Carriers COLOSSUS, GLORY, VENERABLE, and VENGEANCE, intended to be a second Carrier Strike Force that could relieve the 1 ACS during operations against the Japanese mainland. As early as August 10th it became clear that Japan was willing to accept the terms of surrender and all of the ships in Australian waters had been reallocated to form Task Group 111 in
readiness to reoccupy the former Crown Colonies in Hong Kong (TG111.2), Shanghai (TG111.3) and Singapore (TG111.4). The ships of Task Group 111 sailed on the 15th, and after embarking their squadrons set course for the Admiralty Islands. They were at sea when the Japanese surrender was announced. Task Group 111.2, which comprised carriers INDOMITABLE and VENERABLE, Cruisers SWIFTSURE and EURYALUS, PRINCE RUPERT (RCN) and Destroyers KEMPENFELT, URSA, WHIRLWIND and QUADRANT called at Manus on August 19th and then preceded to Subic Bay to await orders. It is assumed that the detached aircraft rejoined INDOMITABLE at Manus as FORMIDABLE also arrived there on the 19th.
Sub-Lt R.A. Clews RNVR had a deck crash on August 21st, he overcorrected landing in JX810 and the starboard wing hit a gun director. The ships arrived at Subic Bay on the 25th and sailed for Hong Kong on the 27th. Tragedy struck the next day when Sub-Lt P.G. Cornabe RNVR of 1844 was killed landing on; flying in JV158 he came in too fast, caught No. 3 wire but this malfunctioned and the aircraft went over side and into the sea. Two aircraft were put out of action on passage to Hong Kong, both from 1844; on August 28th Sub-Lt Thomas after landing on in JZ982 hit the tail of Hellcat JX992 ('142/W') while being marshalled into the aircraft park. The last recorded incident was on August 30th when Sub-Lt G.H. Smith RNVR made a high approach in JX701 and entered the barrier.
On the 29th the group met with advance elements of TG111.4, ANSON and her escorting destroyers, off Hong Kong to await the completion of minesweeping operations before entering the colony. Logistic considerations meant that the dispatch of a Task Group to Singapore was cancelled and TG 111.4 was reallocated to augment TG 111.2, ANSON and her escorting destroyers sailing first, they were joined by VENGEANCE, COLOSSUS, BERMUDA, TUSCAN and TYRIAN on September 5th.
Information had been received that there were a large number of Japanese explosive ‘suicide’ boats hidden amongst the various coves and inlets and air searches were mounted by aircraft from both carriers. Shortly before entering harbour on the 30th a report was received from one of the aircraft that there was anything up to a hundred of these boats in Picnic, Bay, Lamma Island. A short time later aircraft reported that three were heading for the western entrance to Man-o'-War anchorage. The aircraft were ordered to attack and they reported one sunk, one beached and the other returned to harbour, the boats in the harbour were then bombed.
Admiral Harcourt transferred his Flag to SWIFTSURE and accompanied by EURYALUS, PRINCE ROBERT, and destroyers entered Hong Kong, the main elements of TG 111.2 and 111.4 followed later; VENERABLE was ordered to remain at sea and maintain a continuous air patrol over Hong Kong. Admiral Harcourt now assumed the title of C. in C. Hong Kong and stood down as AC 11., Rear Admiral Daniels assuming command of the merged TG 111.2 and 111.4.
While in Hong Kong ship and squadron personnel were employed on policing and guard duties throughout the colony and many were present for the Official Japanese surrender of Hong Kong on the 16th. INDOMITABLE left for Australia via Manus on September
27th, her Air Group was disembarked to
RNAS Nowra on October 10th 1945. The ship then preceded to Sydney, arriving at No. 3 berth, Woolloomooloo the following morning where 44 civilian ex-internees were disembarked.
H.M.S. INDOMITABLE leaving Hong Kong © IWM (A 30848)
Return to the UK to disband
On arrival at
Nowra the squadron aircraft were withdrawn. The personnel for all three squadrons were re-embarked on October 20th when the ship sailed for the UK, calling at Fremantle, Colombo, and Aden. The 11th Carrier Air Group and its constituent squadrons were disbanded on arrival in the UK on November 30th 1945.
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17 June 2019
Sources used in compiling this account:
Brown, D. (1974) 'Carrier Operations in World War 2 - vol
1 the Royal Navy' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.
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)
Winton, J. (1969) 'The forgotten Fleet', London,
Michael Joseph Ltd.
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
Vice Admiral, Second in Command, British Pacific Fleet report of
operations against the Ryukyu Islands and Formosa, /26/345 to
20/4/45 and 4-25/5/45