The British Pacific and East Indies Fleets

The forgotten fleets that fought the Japanese in the Pacific and Indian Oceans



Aircraft Maintenance Carrier

Motto: In utrumque excelso animo
"Ready for either duty with a soaring spirit"

Pennant No. I72


Battle Honours

CADIZ 1596
TEXEL 1673
‘Vestale’ 1761
'Tribune' 1796
KOREA 1950-53






Builder: Vickers Armstrong, (Barrow-in-Furness, United Kingdom

Displacement: 18,330 tons

Length: 695 ft

Beam: 80 ft 4 int

Draught: 23 ft

Speed: 25 Knots

 Crew complement: 1,076


Squadrons operated


Hurricane IIc

March - April 43



November 44 - January 45

Barracuda II



Seafire IIcs/L.IIcs

August - October 43




March 43 - August 44



Swordfish II

March - May 43


847 ()Det 8)

January 1944

Barracuda II



Seafire IIcs/L.IIcs

April  - October 43



Seafire IIcs/L.IIcs

August - October 43



Commanding Officers

First Commission

Captain Q. D. Graham, CBE, DSO, RN 14 Jan 1943

Captain H. S. Murray-Smith 7 Nov 1944

Captain G. R. Deverell 14 Jan 1946

In Reserve

Lt. Cdr J. D. H. Manly

Cdr G. T.  McInnes

Lieutenant W. A. Woolley

Second Commission

Captain H. S. Hopkins OBE 1949 - N0ov 1950

Captain J. Y. Thomson. Nov 1950 - May 1951

Captain R. R. S. Pennefather May 1951

Commander P. F. Mansty





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HMS UNICORN at anchor off Pityilu Island, C. July 1945


The design that would result in HMS UNICORN was conceived to meet the afloat support facilities requirements of the Royal Navy in the late 1930s needed to allow sustained operations by its armoured fleet carriers. The proposals for meeting these needs included assembling a collection of repair, maintenance and depot ships that could follow the fleet (the very concept that became the Fleet Train created for the British Pacific Fleet in late 1944). UNICORN was a compromise, one ship performing many roles.

She was the first purpose-built carrier for the Royal Navy which could fulfil the aviation afloat support role; she was a fully functioning Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier equipped to operate aircraft in combat, she was also outfitted as an aircraft Repair and Maintenance vessel and could operate as an aircraft Ferry Carrier and Heavy Transport. She was designed with spacious double hangars with 16ft 6in hangar heights intended to accommodate any type of aircraft in use by the RN at the time. Reserve aircraft were to be stuck-down into the lower hangar (360ft by 62ft), while the upper hangar (324ft by 65ft) would be the maintenance and repair area. Both hangars could be accessed at the stern enabling UNICORN to even service floatplanes.

UNICORN was ordered from Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Northern Ireland on April 14th 1939 and her keel was laid down on June 29th 1939. She was launched on November 20th 1941 by her sponsor Lady Mabel MacNaughton. Work on the ship was delayed by resources and manpower being diverted to more priority builds and this led to the decision to complete her as an operational carrier first and complete her outfitting as repair carrier later. She was commissioned as HMS UNICORN on January 14th 1943, Captain Q. D. Graham, CBE, DSO, RN in command, she was the 14th RN ship to bear this name.

Working up and Flying trials

Sea trials were completed in early March and her build was completed on the 12th, she next sailed to begin working up in the firth of Clyde. On March 24th she began flying trials in the Irish Sea embarking three squadrons from Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Machrihanish; 800 NAS (18 Sea Hurricane IIc), 818 (9 Swordfish II), and 824 (6 Swordfish II). Two days later the first deck crash occurred when Swordfish DK686 of 824 squadron, piloted by Sub-Lt D. A. Davis RNVR, made a fast landing, missed all the arrestor wires and entered the barrier. A swordfish from 818 was damaged landing on April 14th, Sub-Lt J. M. Reid-Henry RNVR in DK750 struck the after pom-pom causing wing and tailplane damage. On the 28th HS226 of 824 squadron, flown by Sub-Lt J. C. H. Simpson RNVR suffered one of the most common swordfish landing incidents when its undercarriage collapsed.

The Sea Hurricanes of 800 squadron departed for RNAS Donibristle on April 16th after an uneventful three weeks onboard, their place was to be taken by 887 operating 9 Safire L. II. This squadron had been visiting the ship from as early as April 9th when Sub-Lt H. A. Foote RNZNVR flying in Seafire MB293 crashed when his undercarriage collapsed on landing. Other pilots carried out Deck Landing Training (DLT) sorties over the next week, Sub-Lt P. H. Knowler RNVR made a bad landing in MA989 on the 16th, ending up with the undercarriage legs in the Port nets, the aircraft nose out over the sea. The entire squadron flew out to join the ship on April 19th.

The ship continued to work up with 818 (9 Swordfish II) 824 (6 Swordfish II) and 887 (9 Seafire L.IIc) in preparation for her first operational outing in Mid-May. On May 10th UNICORN conducted exercises with the Fleet Carriers INDEFATIGABLE and FURIOUS in the Irish Sea. 887 pilots had another five flying incidents during this period; on April 30th Sub-Lt Foote stalled MB266 over the deck after a low approach trying to go round again, writing off the aircraft. On May 4th Sub-Lt R. D. Viney RNVR in MA989 floated over all the arrestor wires, but caught the trickle wire which caused the arrestor hook to be pulled out. Sub-Lt Knowler made a barrier crash in NM914 after missing all the arrestor wires on the 6th, and Sub-Lt W. J. F. Beever RNVR flying in MB279 made a heavy landing resulting in damage to his aircraft. There were two incidents involving 824; on May 4th Swordfish HS214 flown by Sub-Lt S. W. Taylor RNVR swerved into the island while landing., and the following day Sub-Lt I. C. H. Simpson RNVR made a heavy landing in HS216 causing the starboard undercarriage to collapse. 824 squadron left the ship on May 13th, disembarking to RNAS Machrihanish.

HMS UNICORN at sea with Seafires and Swordfish embarked for flying training.

Ferry voyage to Gibraltar May 19th – June 4th 1943

Her work-up compete HMS UNICORN was allocated to act as a ferry carrier for her first operational voyage. She was to embark 18 RAF Beaufighters for delivery to Gibraltar. UNICORN sailed from the Clyde on May 19th 1943 as part of the escort for the combined convoy KMF.15 (for Algiers)/WS.30 (for Freetown); the two convoys were to split off at Gibraltar for their respective destinations.

The disassembled Beaufighters f were stowed below to permit flying operations on passage; Swordfish from 818 squadron operated anti-submarine patrols while Seafires from 887 were launched to intercept German snoopers. Only one snooper approached the convoy on the 25th, Sub-Lt Knowler in NM917 intercepted a Fw200, scoring a few hits but his cannon jammed after firing only 5 rounds. The convoys spilt off Gibraltar and UNICORN entered harbour on the 26th to off load her cargo of Beaufighters. She sailed again on May 30th and joined the escorting force for the return convoy MKF.15, detaching from the convoy on reaching the Western Approaches on June 4th without any incident.

Flying training continues June - July1943

UNICORN resumed training in the Irish Sea on release from convoy duty, this included night DLT sessions for 818 squadron on June 8th. During this session Sub-Lt H. L. Taylor RNVR made a heavy landing in HS346 and Sub-Lt H. van Staveren RNZNVR suffered engine failure in HS543 and ditched, he was safely rescued. On the 16th Sub-Lt S. F. Such RNVR struck the rounddown landing in Swordfish HS549. The Seafires of 887 remained aboard until June 18th when they flew ashore to RNAS Belfast. In the two weeks prior to this, two aircraft were lost overboard; MB262 (Sub-Lt A. D. Hawkins-King RNVR) ran off the deck into the sea, and sank and MB271 (Sub-Lt W. G. Coleman RNZNVR) floated over all wires and went over the side, both pilots were OK. One heavy landing, MB130 (Sub-Lt Coleman), and two barrier crashes; MA975 (Sub-Lt I. T. Basley RNVR), and LR684 (Sub-Lt Coleman). Four aircraft from 818 were also put ashore to RNAS Belfast on June 28th when UNICORN entered a Belfast dockyard for repairs

She re-emerged on July 11th and she sailed for the Clyde to begin a post repair work-up, embarking her squadrons once at se. The next day Sub-Lt Coleman hit a pom-pom mount with his starboard wing tip after catching a wire in Seafire MB265 and Sub-Lt Such had to return to the ship in Swordfish DK704 with engine trouble.

The ships’ first aircrew fatality occurred on July 15th when Sub-Lt J.A. F. Lawrance RNVR, the observer in Swordfish HS546 was thrown out of the cockpit by turbulence. He had unfastened his safety strap in rough weather near Ailsa Craig during a navex from UNICORN; he was never found. The pilot Sub-Lt Taylor and P.O. Airman C. Coles landed safely. On the 21st Sub-Lt Viney floated Seafire MA987 into the barrier.

Operations with the Home Fleet July 1943

On July 22nd UNICORN sailed for Scapa Flow in company with the Cruiser MALAYA to operate with the Home Fleet. The ships arrived at Scapa at 18:00 on the 23rd and the carrier began preparations to participate in the up-coming operation GOVERNOR.

Operation GOVERNOR was an attempt to lure TIRPITZ and other German heavy battleships out of harbour by simulating a raid on southern Norway. Admiralty knowledge of German reconnaissance flights was vital since they needed the forces to be spotted and reported. The operation employed five separate forces. Force A: Battleships HMS ANSON and USS ALABAMA, carrier ILLUSTRIOUS, destroyers MILNE, MUSKETEER, METEOR, and MAHRATTA, USS RODMAN, MACOMB, EMMONS, and FITCH; Force B: Battleships DUKE OF YORK and USS SOUTH DAKOTA, carrier UNICORN, cruiser BERMUDA, destroyers ONSLOW, OBDURATE, OBEDIENT, ULSTER, GRENVILLE, MATCHLESS, SAUMAREZ, SCORPION, and IMPULSIVE; Force C: (representing a convoy), destroyers SAVAGE and RIPLEY, trawlers SKY, SWITHA, CEDAR, LARCH, OAK, WILLOW, HAWTHORNE, and LILAC, MLs 252, 286, 442, 473, and 445, LCI (L) 167; Force D: Cruiser BELFAST , destroyers ORWELL and ORIBI; Force E: Cruisers LONDON, KENT, and NORFOLK.

Force ‘A’ sailed from Hvalfiord on the 26th to take up position; Force ‘B’ & ‘D’ sailed from Scapa at 16:00, and Force ‘E’ from Hvalfiord, on July 27th. Force ‘C’ sailed from Sullom Voe on July 27th to make a run as a dummy convoy, arriving back at Sullom Voe on the 29th. The Operation was carried out according to plan and was considered to have been successful. Only one force (Force ‘D’) was shadowed for certain but four BV 138 aircraft were shot down during the operations, two by Martlets from ILLUSTRIOUS and two by Beaufighters from RAF 18 Group; no German battleships were tempted out. 887 saw no action during this operation, UNICORN withdrew to Scapa with Force ‘B’ on the 29th. She sailed for the Clyde the following day escorted by SCORPION and GRENVILLE, arriving on the 31st.

Detached to the Mediterranean & operation AVALANCHE August - October 1943

UNICORN was now allocated to participate in the Allied landings near the port of Salerno, part of the Allied invasion of Italy. On her arrival back on the Clyde she immediately began a DLT session for pilots from 809 squadron flying out from RNAS Machrihanish. The session resulted in two barrier crashes resulting from the aircraft floating over all the arrestor wires; Seafire NX919 flown by Lt. C. Walker RNVR and NX953 flown by Sub-Lt R. D. Wood RNVR, the later aircraft being a write-off. On returning to the Clyde preparations began for departure for the Mediterranean.

For operation AVALANCHE she embarked two additional Seafire squadrons from RNAS Machrihanish; 897 flying out on the 4th and 809 on the 7th, each with 10 aircraft making a total of 30 Seafire IIcs/L.IIcs and 9 Swordfish embarked. Also embarked at the same time as 809 was No.2 Carrier Borne Air Liaison Section, (2 CBALS) [1] a part of the Army's No.12 Air liaison Section; this small 5-man unit comprised of a Captain, a Sergeant and 3 clerks from the Royal Army Signals Corps, under the command of Major Richard Pegler RA. This was the second unit of its kind to operate with a FAA squadron and a carrier No.1 CBALS was trained with 879 squadron and on boars ATTACKER. This new unit was attached to 809 squadron during army co-operation training at RAF Andover which started on July 13th before moving to RNAS Machrihanish on the 28th. The squadron, embarked on August 7th together with 2 CBALS for sea borne experience.

DLT sessions continued until the 12th, Sub-Lt Coleman of 809 squadron made a heavy landing in NM971 on August 5th causing the fuselage to buckle. Sub-Lt Viney of 887 squadron caused some serious damage on the 6th when his aircraft Seafire LR684 bounced over the barrier and landed on several aircraft parked forward.

UNICORN sailed from the Clyde at 06:00 on August 13th in company with ILLUSTRIOUS and the A.A. Cruiser SCYLLA escorted by the Destroyers OPPORTUNE, OBDURATE, OBEDIENT, SAVAGE, and SCORPION for passage to Gibraltar. The group arrived at Gibraltar on the 17th for duty with the Mediterranean Fleet.

UNICORN was to form part of Force 'V' which comprised UNICORN, HM Escort Aircraft Carriers ATTACKER, BATTLER, HUNTER, STALKER, Cruisers EURYALUS, SCYLLA and CHARYBDIS, Destroyers CLEVELAND, HOLCOMBE, ATHERSTONE, LIDDESDALE, FARNDALE, CALPE, and Polish destroyers ORP SLAZAK and ORP KRAKOWIAK. A second force, Force "H" comprised the Battleships NELSON, RODNEY, WARSPITE and VALIANT, Fleet Carriers ILLUSTRIOUS (878 Sqn - 14 Martlet IV, 890 Sqn -14Martlet IV, and 894 Sqn -10 Seafire IIc) and FORMIDABLE (885 Sqn - 5 Seafire IIc, 88 Sqn - 16 Martlet IV, 893 Sqn - 16 Martlet IV , and 820 Sqn – 12 Albacore) and a screen of 21 destroyers including French, Polish and Greek warships, this was a covering force for the landings, intended to prevent any interference by Italian surface warships. On the eve of operation AVALANCHE Italy surrendered so the threat had passed, however there was a strong German force in the area.

At Gibraltar the squadrons spent nearly three weeks conducting flying training and exercising with the ship in preparation for the operation. Five flying incidents are recorded during this period; on August 26th Sub-Lt A. B. Foley RNZNVR of 897 squadron made a heavy landing in Seafire MB305 causing the tail oleo to collapse and wrinkle the fuselage. On the 27th there were two for 887 squadron, Sub-Lt Foote smashed into the barrier in LR689 after the hook bounced, breaking the aircraft’s back, and Sub-Lt T. D. Lucey RNVR made a heavy landing in LR707. On the 29th two more 887 squadron aircraft were damaged; Sub-Lt Lucey missed all the arrestor wires and floated into the barrier landing in LR632, Sub-Lt Hawkins-King did the same landing in MB117.

On completion of training UNICORN preceded to Malta with other vessels for Force ‘V’  arriving at 07:00 on September 7th. Force ‘V’  sailed from Malta on September 8th and proceeded via the Straits of Messina to arrive on station 45 miles south-west of the beachhead early in the morning of September 9th. The carriers of Force ‘V’  operated only Seafire squadrons; ATTACKER (879 & 880 Sqns - 19 aircraft), , BATTLER (807 & 808 Sqns - 18 aircraft), HUNTER (834 Fighter flight & 899 Sqn - 20 aircraft), and STALKER (833 Fighter flight & 880 Sqn - 20 aircraft) UNICORN (809, 887, and 897 Sqns - 30 aircraft) making a total of 109 Seafires 11 squadrons. The five carriers were to provide fighter cover for the landings. It was intended that a constant presence of naval air cover would be maintained over the landing sites, up to 20 aircraft aloft at a time; the CVEs would carry out the patrols over the beachhead and UNICORN’s aircraft would provide top cover over the force. The first flights were launched at dawn on the 9th. At this time none of the four CVEs were equipped as fighter or assault carriers so fighter direction was provided by the Fighter Direction Ship HMS ULSTER QUEEN.

HMS UNICORN seen from the flight deck of BATTLER while at sea with Force ‘V’  for operation AVALANCHE.

Operation AVALANCHE Day 1 the first Serial of 6 Seafires was launched at 06:15 on September 9th. There were two fatalities during the first serial of the day, Sub-Lt M. A. McKenzie RNVR of 809 squadron was killed when his Seafire stalled landing on and crashed in to the sea astern, and Sub-Lt I. J. Urlich RNZNVR of 897 squadron died when he ran out of fuel and was forced to bale out over the sea and drowned. Two other Seafires were put out of action during the day, one aircraft from Serial 5 made a forced landing on the emergency strip on Salerno beach, the pilot was OK, but Seafire MB218 flown by Sub-Lt Coleman (809) was a complete write-off after making a flapless landing and crashing through the first barrier before being halted by the forward one This machine was jettisoned overboard to quickly clear the deck.

The only enemy contact during day 1 was at 11:50 on 9th September, Serial 6 comprising of six Seafires led by Lieuten¬ant D. F. V. Davies, RNVR, (897) was patrolling between Salerno and Montecorvino airfield at 18,000 feet when they spotted two Messerschmidt (Me) 109's to starboard. and 1,000 feet below. No.1 Section attacked out of the sun and both enemy aircraft jettisoned their overload tanks on sighting the Seafires. Lieutenant Davies carried out a quarter attack at long range on one aircraft which climbed steeply to port and then dived out of range. Je followed the aircraft down to 6,000 feet and then pulled out, his airspeed indicator was then reading over 400 knots. No. 2 of the Section, Sub-Lt L. T. Baker, RNVR, (897) attacked the second Me.109, opening fire at 400 yards and fired several short bursts. The enemy aircraft dived vertically down and the combat was broken off at 800 yards range. No damage to enemy aircraft was observed as a result of either of these engagements.

UNICORN was carrying a third more aircraft than her normal complement and having only one aircraft lift soon proved problematic for such an intense flying programme. Unserviceable aircraft had to be stowed in the hangars, but allowing access to serviceable ones; during the course of the afternoon on the 9th two serviceable aircraft became trapped in the after end of the lower hangar by damaged aircraft. These were cleared by ranging the whole tan from the lower hangar and restowing them between one fly-on and the next fly-off between 1435 and 1500. By the end of the first day, she had 20 serviceable aircraft, while 6 were under repair she had lost 4 and carried no onboard reserves. A small stock of reserve Seafires was held ashore at Castelvetrano, Sicily and squadron pilots would need to be flown to this airfield, by Swordfish, to recover spare machines.

Operation AVALANCHE Day 2 the first Serial of 6 Seafires was launched at 06:15, followed by a second at 07:15. At 08:00 the 6 Seafires (3 sections of 2, 7A & 7B from 897, and 6A from 887) of serial 2 lead by Lt. Cdr W. G. Simpson (897) were patrolling at 14,000 feet inland south of the river Sele. Sub-Lt A.D. Hawkins-King of 6A section spotted two ME109s and the section broke formation to pursue them. Sub-Lt Foote, section leader, saw Sub-Lt Hawkins-King get jumped by Me4109s; having seen two Me.109s pass his nose at fifty yards range, Sub-Lt Hawkins-King broke to starboard and then saw three more on his tail. When he recovered, he was heading north and joined up with 7A Section (Lt. Cdr W. G. Simpson RNVR & Sub-Lt J. A. F. Rankin RNVR). Shortly after joining up six Me.109's passed 6,000 feet below them and up to starboard; Lt. Cdr Simpson led his section in to attack aircraft on their Starboard while 6A section broke to Port to attack a single aircraft; Lt. Cdr Simpson attacked and destroyed 1 enemy aircraft which blew up in flight and damaged two others, one was seen spiralling to earth issuing thick black smoke, Sub-Lt Hawkins-King made a deflection attack on his target scoring several hits and the Me109 went down in a left hand spin from 5,000 feet, issuing glycol and oil smoke, and disappeared into cloud at 3,000 feet. This is the only enemy action involving 887 squadron during the operation.

Three Swordfish had taken off for Castelvetrano, Sicily at 06:55 carrying four pilots to collect spare Seafires. These landed on at 14:55 but only one of the 4 Seafires reached the ship. Due to poor visibility and poor vectoring by the Fighter Direction ship HMS PALOMARES. The one that reach UNICORN crashed on landing, one landed at Montecorvino airfield, another on the beach at Salerno. The fourth pilot, Sub-Lt B. Razzall RNVR (897) was killed, he drowned after baling out over the sea.

UNICORN also received several aircraft from other carriers during the day when a fouled deck prevented them from landing: 2 from STALKER at 14:40, 1 from HUNTER at 17:35, and 1 from  BATTLER at 18:15. The 2 from STALKER were able to re-join her by 16:00, the others remained on board requiring repairs.;

Operation AVALANCHE Day 3 the first Serial of 6 Seafires was launched at 06:15, but reduced to 4 from the usual 6. UNICORN could only muster 11 serviceable Seafires that morning, but 4 more were expected to be serviceable by Noon. The aircraft from  BATTLER and HUNTER departed in the early morning.

At 18:10 on 11th September, a section of three 879 squadron Seafires led by Lieutenant D. F. V. Davies, RNVR, patrolling over Salerno at 12,000 feet, saw 10 Me 109's jump eight Lightnings at 10,000 feet. Lieutenant Davies dove down on one Me 109, but it dived array very fast and he was unable to close to effective range. No. 3 Sub-Lt A. D. Perry RNVR, attacked another Me 109 and fired one burst at 300 yards from the port quarter. No. 2 Sub-Lt A. B. Foley RNVR, then attacked the same aircraft and fired a full deflection burst from the port quarter followed by four three-second bursts from astern at 500 yards' range. The enemy aircraft took no evasive action and continued in a steady dive until out of range, finally turning on his side. The aircraft was last seen in this attitude and emitting a considerable quantity of thick smoke, five miles north of Salerno. No strikes were observed, and it is considered that this aircraft was damaged only.

During the day 9 Seafires and 1 Martlet had landed on from other carriers, the first came from HUNTER at 07:35, this was followed by 3 from ATTACKER at 101:5 and 2 from STALKER at 10:20. A further 2 landed on from ATTACKER at 10:50. The first 5 these visitors departed at 11:45 three from ATTACKER, 2 to undertake a sortie, the other to return to the ship, and the 2 from STALKER also to return to the carrier. At 12:45 2 Seafires from HUNTER, one new arrival and one from the previous day departed for sorties. The remaining 2 aircraft from ATTACKER launched for sorties at 13:50. There were two new arrivals at 15:25, 1 Seafire from HUNTER and 1 Marled from FORMIDABLE. The aircraft from HUNTER departed at 16:00.

Reinforcements arrived onboard from Force "H” at 19:15, 6 Seafires and 8 Martlets from FORMIDABLE, and 2 Seafires from ILLUSTRIOUS. This was two more Martlets than had been expected, combined with the return of UNICORN’s aircraft from Montecorvino airfield there were five more aircraft on board than the Captain expected and overcrowding was severe.

Operation AVALANCHE Day 4 there were 20 Seafires and 8 Martlets serviceable at dawn and the first Serial of 6 Seafires was launched at 06:15, this time 8 Seafires took off for Top Cover and 4 Martlets for Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over Force “V”. Seafire sorties were halted at about 09:45 but Martlets continued to fly CAP sorties the last launching at 13:15.

It had been envisaged that one or more enemy airfields would be in allied hands by the end of the first day and so shore based air cover would take over, this was not the case; it was not until the third day that the airfield at Paestum was under Allied control that this became possible. At 13:45 on the 12th as many serviceable fighters as could be mustered were put ashore to operate at Paestum; ATTACKER managed 4,  BATTLER 5, HUNTER 5, and STALKER only 2, UNICORN supplied 10, six of them belonging to 997 squadron. Aircraft attrition was high; UNICORN's Seafires flew 75 sorties on the first day of operations and 60 on the second, but the Seafire was not well suited to carrier landings in low wind conditions, and many were damaged in landing accidents. 44 sorties were flown on the 11th and only 20 on the 12th; UNICORN's mechanics had managed to repair ten Seafires over the previous night.

At approximately 18:30 on the 12th Force “V” left the operational area and proceeded to Palermo arriving at 20:00. At 06:00 on the following morning the Force sailed for Bizerta, arriving there at 19:00.

Operation AVALANCHE Day 8 - 12 The carriers were back on station by the 16th and the detached aircraft were recovered. During the four days on station the carriers, which all flew Seafires, launched a combined total of 713 sorties, providing more than half the allied air coverage over the beach head, UNICORN’s squadrons flew 198 sorties. No RN aircraft were lost to enemy action but 4 were lost through engine failure and 32 were written off in deck landing accidents.

Force 'V' was to disband on September 20th and UNICORN, ILLUSTRIOUS and FORMIDABLE sailed for Gibraltar. While on passage Sub-Lt D. S. Ogle RNVR of 8089 squadron hit the rounddown in Seafire MB263, the aircraft floated over all the wires and entered the barrier.

Return to the UK for completion as a repair and maintenance carrier October - November 1943

On October 5th UNICORN with ILLUSTRIOUS, FORMIDABLE, and the battleship VALIANT escorted by destroyers ONSLOW, MAHRATTA, OBEDIENT, MATCHLESS, VENUS, HARDY, HNorMS STORD, and INGLEFIELD left Gibraltar p.m. for the United Kingdom. The next day Swordfish DK774 had a barrier crash after turning form an anti-submarine (A/S) patrol, the crew Sub-Lt J. M. Reid-Henry and PO Airman C. Coles were unhurt.

UNICORN arrived on the Clyde on October 10th, and the first squadron to disembark was 897, flying ashore to RNAS Burscough the same day; Lt R. D. Beilby RNVR was killed leaving the ship, his aircraft crashed into the sea on take-off. 887 flew ashore to RAF Andover on October 11th; after an overnight stop they continued on to RNAS Machrihanish the following day. 809 flew ashore to RAF Andover on October 12th and 818 disembarked to RNAS Belfast on the 13th.

The ship now entered a Belfast shipyard to complete her outfitting as a repair and maintenance carrier. While her workshop equipment was being installed the specially selected officers and men who would form her Air Repair Department were being assembled and trained at RN Air maintenance Yards in Belfast and Glasgow. They embarked in late December, just prior to her sailing for the Far East. The ships manning was adjusted accordingly, the new draft was large enough to provide round the clock workshop operations employing three watches. Now, no longer classed as an operational carrier and she would not be carrying her own squadrons, the Air Operations Department was reduced to the minimum required to receive and despatch aircraft related to repair and maintenance.

Reallocated to the Eastern Fleet

On emerging from the dockyard, UNICORN began preparation for passage to Ceylon to join the Eastern Fleet as an aircraft maintenance ship. 818 squadron, now reduced to 4 Swordfish, re-joined the ship on November 22nd flying out from RNAS Machrihanish. A ferry load of reserve airframes as also embarked for delivery to Cochin, India.

UNICORN sailed from the Clyde on December 29th 1943 in company with ILLUSTRIOUS screened by destroyers TERMAGANT, TENACIOUS, and KEMPENFELT for Ceylon, they were joined by the Battleships RENOWN, QUEEN ELIZABETH, and VALIANT the next day for passage to Port Said. One of her Swordfish was lost on the 30th, HS553 flown by Sub-Lt C. N. Bates RNVR ditched ½m E of Holy Isle, Firth of Clyde.

While on passage a detachment of 8 Barracuda II aircraft belonging to 847 squadron transferred from ILLUSTRIOUS to UNICORN for anti-submarine patrols and DLT between January 2nd and the 26th. Tragically 2 aircraft and their crews were lost during this detachment, both after suffering engine failure; on January 2nd P9962 ditched while on A/S patrol killing Sub-Lt P. L. Morgan RNVR, Sub-Lt J. F. Briton RNVR & Leading Airman R. Dexter, on the 4th Barracuda DT852 lost power after take-off for an A/S patrol and ditched, the depth charges she carried exploded killing Sub-Lt N. Wallworth RNVR, Sub-Lt R. L. Holloway RNVR & Leading Airman L Chadwick.

UNICORN, ILLUSTRIOUS and RENOWN entered the Suez Canal at 09:00 on January 12th, anchoring in the Great Bitter Lake overnight. Arriving at Port Suez at 10:00 on the 13th. At 08:00 on the 16th UNICORN and ILLUSTRIOUS with the destroyers PETARD, PALADIN, PATHFINDER, and ROCKET sailed from Suez to carry out High Angle. firings in the Gulf of Suez before continuing the passage to Aden. The ships arrived at Aden to refuel on the afternoon of the 19th, sailing for Colombo. At 1800 on the 26th, UNICORN, screened by ROEBUCK and RAPID, was detached and proceeded to Cochin, where she arrived on the morning of January 27th.

After unloading her ferry load UNICORN Sailed for Trincomalee on February 1st escorted by NIZAM, NEPAL, and QUIBERON, arriving on the 2nd. 818 squadron disembarking to RN Air Section China Bay on February 5th. She next proceeded to Colombo arriving there on March 27th before continuing on to Bombay where she entered a dockyard for a short refit.

HMS UNICORN at anchor in Clappenburg Bay with Barracuda aircraft on deck

She arrived back at Trincomalee in late April where she was moored in Clappenburg Bay, of the RN Air Section at RAF China Bay. Here she provided air maintenance support for the Fleet Carriers ILLUSTRIOUS, INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS, maintain a small reserve of airframes ashore at China Bay along with a small test fight party. While in Ceylon the American single seat fighter the Vought Corsair was entering frontline service and UNICORN embarked several Special Maintenance Parties trained in the US to repair this type.

Deck Landing Training Carrier In addition to her maintenance role UNICORN was to act as a Deck Landing Training carrier for squadrons based on the island, operating from both Trincomalee and Colombo. She sailed screened by PENN and PETARD on April 29th for a DLT period with 832 squadron Martlets from RNAS Katukurunda; 818 re-embarked their Swordfish on the same date. DLT continued into early May, providing a deck for pilots from 756 squadron at RNAS Katukurunda. The only recorded flying incident in May is Barracuda DT883, flown by Sub-Lt N. W. Dyson RNZNVR, which landed on with the undercarriage not locked down on the 4th.

Beginning on June 5th and completing on June 7th the Corsairs of 1837 and 1938 squadrons flew out to the ship from RAAF Minneriya, and on the 14th to the 15th the Hellcats of 1844 squadron operating out of Chins Bay, for an intensive period of DLT. At some stage it appears that 818 squadron operated at least one Hellcat fighter; on July 25th Lt. G. W. Finlayson RNZNVR was flying in Hellcat FN409 and was unable to fully lower the landing gear approaching UNICORN, he landed safely with the gear only partially down. The squadron transferred to the escort carrier ATHELING August 23rd.

Above: A damage Barracuda is hoisted onboard from a lighter in preparation for inspection by an Air Engineering Officer. Below: A repaired Barracuda ready to be ferried ashore to RN Air Section China Bay.


Modification work to support US aircraft types: Durban November – December 1944

In November 1944 there was a major reorganisation of naval resources following the successful Allied landings in France, Britain began to reallocate resources to the Far East and the war against Japan. Two new fighting forces were officially formed to operate against the Japanese in the Pacific and Indian oceans; a restructured Eastern Fleet was redesignated the East Indies Fleet (EIF) and would operate in the Indian Ocean while a new force, the British Pacific Fleet (BPF) was assembled to join the American forces in the Pacific. UNICORN was allocated to operate as part of the BPF but would need some major alterations to her hangars and workshops in order to fully support the American aircraft types operated by the BPF Fleet Carriers, Corsair and Hellcat fighters and Avenger torpedo bombers and their associated engines. For these alterations the ship was to enter a dockyard at Durban, South Africa.

For passage to Durban UNICORN was allocated a Barracuda squadron to provide A/S patrols and the 12 aircraft of 817 squadron flew out from RNAS Katukurunda to join the ship on November 7th after she departed Trincomalee to begin her passage to South Africa. The ship called at Addu Atoll on the 8th and ‘Crossed the 'Line' for the first time on the 9th while on passage to Diego Suarez, arriving there on the 13th. Her squadron was flown ashore to RN Air Section Stanford Hill on the 18th as ache prepared to enter Durban harbour. The squadron had a fairly uneventful voyage with only three flying incidents; Sub-Lt S. Craik RNVR made a heavy landing on November 8th stressing the fuselage of LS699, on the 10th Lt-Cdr T. W. l. May SANF(V) in LS534 bounced on landing and burst his port tyre, the same pilot had more serious crash on the 12th flying in BV962, he caught a late arrestor wire and the tail oleo broke, the momentum carried the aircraft forward sufficiently for the prop to hit the crash barrier.

After spending nearly six weeks, including Christmas in Durban, UNICORN Sailed on New Year’s Day 1945, re-embarking 817 squadron once clear of the port. One aircraft suffered a deck crash landing on, the undercarriage of LS505, flown by Sub-Lt T. G. Brocklebank RNVR, collapsed causing damage to the fuselage. The ship made the return voyage direct to Colombo arriving there on January 12th. Two more Barracudas were damaged as the ship approached the Ceylonese coast; on the 11th Sub-Lt J. W. Wood RNVR in LS675 landed heavily and the tail wheel hit rounddown, and on the 12th Sub-Lt. Brocklebank taxied BV967 into the aircraft he was following.

On arrival off Colombo the remaining serviceable Barracudas were flown off, they were to land at RNAS Sullur in Southern India where their aircraft were to be withdrawn. The damaged aircraft remained on board to be offloaded at RNAS Cochin later in the month for delivery to RNARY Coimbatore. UNICORN had one final DLT session before sailing to embark a ferry load from RNAS Cochin, it is presumed that this was to give individual pilots enough deck landings to re-qualify before joining the fleet. At Cochin the 817-squadron aircrew re-joined the ship on the 19th for passage to Colombo and she embarked 82 aircraft and 120 engines for transport to Australia; she could have taken more but this was every spare serviceable airframe that could be found in theatre.

She Sailed from Ceylon for Sydney to join the British Pacific Fleet on January 29th. After calling at Fremantle on February 5th she arrived at Sydney on February 12th to join the other assembling ships of the BPF. Work began to off load a part of her spare airframes for delivery to the Receipt and Despatch Unit at RNAS Bankstown, (Mobile Naval Air Base II) and to embark the vehicles, equipment and a small advance party of Maintenance Storage & Reserve Unit (MSR) 4 from RNAS Bankstown for passage to Ponam Island in the Admiralty Islands.

HMS UNICORN on passage to join the British Pacific Fleet. She is carrying  reserve Hellcat fighters on her flight deck for delivery to Australia.

Operations with the British Pacific Fleet Train, Task Force 112

At 08:30 hours on February 28th the BPF, now known as Task Force 113 sailed from Sydney for The Admiralty Islands, into the teeth of an easterly gale. UNICORN sailed in company with the ships pf TF 113 which comprised the battleships KING GEORGE V (Flag Vice Admiral Sir Henry Bernard Rawlings 1st Battle Squadron and 2iC British Pacific Fleet) and HOWE, light cruisers SWIFTSURE (Flag Rear Admiral E.J.P. Brind CS 4), ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, EURYALUS (Flag Rear Admiral J.H. Edelsten , Rear Admiral (D)) and HMNZS GAMBIA, destroyers GRENVILLE (D25), ULSTER, UNDINE, URSA, and URANIA, KEMPENFELT (D27), WAGER, WAKEFUL, WHIRLWIND, WHELP and WESSEX . The force arrived at of Manus on March 7th and at 10:00 UNICORN and a destroyer screen detached for Ponam Island to disembark MSR 4 and 6 Corsairs to the US Naval Air Station on the island This facility was to loaned to the Admiralty and would be occupied by MONAB IV, commissioning as HMS NABARON on April 2nd 1945.

At the outset the complex problems of air logistics were planned to be handled by a one Lieutenant Commander (E) one Lieutenant Commander (A) on the staff of Rear Admiral Fleet Train (RAFT). Upon UNICORN arriving at Manus, she became part of Task Force 112 and responsibility for air logistics was delegated to her commanding officer, Captain C. M. Merewether. This task involved managing the supply of replacement aircraft and spares from the rear base in Australia to the fleet, for aircraft repairs, for replacement of personnel, and the administration of the aircraft repair-and store ships. At this time the aviation support elements of the Fleet Train consisted of a small number of escort carriers (CVEs) of the 30th Aircraft Carrier Squadron (30ACS) under Commodore W.P. Carne in STRIKER. Two CVEs, SLINGER & STRIKER would operate as replenishment carriers taking reserve aircraft forward to the fleet with the Logistic Support Group (LSG) for issue during replenishment at sea periods, a third CVE, SPEAKER carrying 1840 Hellcat Squadron flew Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the LSG. Afloat repair was provided by the Aircraft Component Repair ship DEER SOUND and UNICORN together with the Air Stores Issue Ship (ASIS) FORT COLVILLE. This small group of ships was to operate from San Pedro Bay, Leyte, in the Philippines. The Air Station on Ponam Island would hold a stock of reserve airframes and stocks ferried forward from Australia would be disembarked there to be collect by the replenishment carriers when needed. Prior to the arrival of MONAB IV at Ponam lodger facilities granted at the US Naval Air Station on Pityilu Island, 22 miles east of Ponam. A small test flight was put ashore from UNICORN to Pityilu for maintenance test flying of airframes that had been repaired onboard. This supply chain stretched from Sydney to Manus (2,300 miles from Sydney), Manus to Leyte (2.280 miles), and from Leyte to the operational area; By July 1945 when the carriers were off the Japanese mainland this was more than a 5000-mile trip each way.

The Fleet Train establishes itself at Leyte On March 15th the available reserve aircraft were distributed between UNICORN, SPEAKER , and SLINGER so that the Fleet might leave for combat operations as fully equipped as possible. Advance elements of the Fleet Train sailed from Manus on March 17th in order to have a Tanker Group in position for the BPF to top up with fuel at the last prudent moment before embarking on the forthcoming strikes against the island of Okinawa 'Operation ICEBERG One'. The ships were formed into two Task Units which were to proceed directly to the prearranged rendezvous; TU 112.2.1 consisted of H.M. Ships STRIKER (with replacement aircraft), CRANE, FINDHORN, WHIRLWIND and the Tankers SAN AMBROSIO, CEDARDALE and SAN ADOLPHO and. TU 112.2.5 consisted of H.M. Ships SPEAKER  (for CAP duties), PHEASANT and KEMPENFELT had sailed from Manus on March 17th to be ready to replenish the ships of the BPF, now designated Task force 57, which sailed for Ulithi Atoll, some 900 miles north of Manus, on March 18th.

A second convoy of logistic support ships, comprising of LOTHIAN (flag ship Rear-Admiral, Fleet Train), SLINGER, EMPIRE SPEARHEAD, ARTIFEX, BACCHUS, WAVE KING, WAVE MONARCH, ARNDALE, DINGLEDALE, FORT COLVILLE, AASE MAERSK, DENBIGHSHIRE, ROBERT MAERSK, THYRA S., HERMELIN, and TYNE, left Manus on March 19th bound for the Philippines. The convoy arrived at Leyte Gulf on the 26th and anchored in San Pedro Bay. UNICORN, escorted by the destroyer WESSEX sailed on the 21st, arriving at San Pedro Bay on the 27th. UNICORN was now the forward area Support for the four Fleet Carriers, ILLUSTRIOUS, INDEFATIGABLE, INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS.

DEER SOUND arrived on April 15th to join UNICORN and FORT COLVILLE; she had experienced difficulties in acquiring her complete outfit of stores and the deficiencies were so severe that Captain Merewether, as officer in charge of air logistics, summed the situation up in a report to Rear Admiral Fleet Train, BPF, 4 May 1945, stating "She is lacking in repair material; hydraulic seals, rivets, but, on arrival at Sydney, she carried arrester hooks, aerofoils, cockpit covers, complete wireless sets and other material, which were of no use to her but were possibly needed elsewhere ... in effect she proved a drain on the fleet. In these circumstances DEER SOUND is being returned to the main base, and it is proposed that she remains there until fully stored- however long that may be."

At Leyte UNICORN received unserviceable airframes brought back from the replenishment area by the CVES, these were ferried across on her own aircraft lighters and hoisted onboard ready to be assessed by the Air Engineering offices and to enter the repair chain. Only 'flyable duds' could be brought back from the Fleet Carriers, 'non-flyable duds were ditched overboard after their engines, and any salvageable equipment had been removed as there was no means to transfer them to the replenishment CVEs whilst at sea. Landing facilities were not available in the Gulf of Leyte, so UNICORN's flight deck became an aircraft park.

The replenishment carriers embarked mixed loads for transport to the replenishment area, numbers varied from 14 - 25 aircraft. A typical load for ICEBERG One was 9 Seafires, 7 Avengers, 6 Corsairs, 1 Hellcat, and 1 Firefly but composition was adjusted when attrition of certain types exceeded estimates or available spare airframes were in short supply.

Task Force 57, began their first round of strikes for operation ICEBERG One joining US Task Force 58 on the March 26th for joint attacks on islands of the Sakishima-Gunto group in support of preparations for US landings on Okinawa. The first full replenishment was on March 29th during which STRIKER issued 13 replacement aircraft and recovered 3 flyable duds. The next replenishment was done by SLINGER between the 2nd and the 5th of April and she issued 22 replacement aircraft to the fleet carriers and recovered 2 'flyable duds’. The number of unserviceable airframes reaching UNICORN was minute compared to the number of replacements being issued and more serviceable aircraft were to be ferried from Australia to Manus for onward passage to Leyte by other CVEs from 30ACS.

Shortages in the supply of reserve airframes became very apparent by the time of the fifth and sixth replenishment periods on April 14th and 18th when there were none available in the replenishment carriers. Only 9 had been returned for repair. The main reason for this was the shortage of CVES on station, the fact that one not in the replenishment area had to return to Ponam to collect and ferry another load back to UNICORN at Leyte. This was made more acute in early April when SLINGER suffered engine trouble making a run to Manus to load a ferry load; the problem was severe enough that she was ordered to proceed to Brisbane directly for repairs, leaving only STRIKER on station. SLINGER and STRIKER had ferried 56 aircraft to the replenishment area, issuing 43 of them to the fleet carriers, and returned 19 'flyable duds' to Leyte.

Reserve aircraft stowed in one of UNICORN's hangars, there are 3 Corsairs and 1 Firefly parked along the hangar wall.

Task Force 57 arrives at Leyte for repair and replenishment On completion of ICEBERG One operations Task Force 57 withdrew to Leyte, anchoring in San Pedro Bay at 12:45 on April 23rd close to the ships of the waiting Fleet Train. The force had been at sea for 32 days, 26 of these days on operations, and had completed 12 strike days. Over the next seven days the Fleet embarked stores, ammunition, replacement aircraft and squadron aircrews were returned to full strength in readiness for the second phase of ICEBERG operations. Daring the major replenishment period UNICORN's aircraft lighters maintained a day and night ferry service between the Fleet Carriers, UNICORN and the Ferry Carriers.

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. FORT COLVILLE sailed from Leyte on May 3rd to proceed to Sydney to resupply; this left only UNICORN on station.

Support for ICEBERG Two operations CHASER had joined 30ACS as an aircraft ferry carrier and she arrived at Manus on May 2nd with her first load, sailing for Leyte the next day. With SLINGER out of action the replenishment roles had changed, SPEAKER  was now on Replenishment duties, with RULER carrying the Hellcats of 885 squadron now provided Combat Air Patrols & Anti-Submarine Patrols in the replenishment area.

For ICEBERG Two Replenishment operations UNICORN issued a selection of replacement airframes to STRIKER and to SPEAKER ; the average load for ICEBERG Two was 3 Seafires, 1 Avenger, 10 Corsairs, 7 Hellcat, and 1 Firefly, this was due to a shortage in Seafires being assembled and sent forward from Australia. STRIKER sailed first to be in position for the eight-replenishment period which commenced at 06:30 on May 6th, where she issued 15 but receiving none. SPEAKER  sailed from Leyte on May 4th to be in position for the nineth replenishment period which commenced at 06:10 on May 10th, she issued 7 replacements and received 6 Corsair flyable duds. STRIKER embarked her second replenishment load and relieved SPEAKER  for replenishment period ten, she 21 replacement aircraft and recovered only 2 flyable duds. CHASER was now operating as a replenishment carrier and was on station for replenishment period eleven on May 18th, she issued 9 replacements and received 2 flyable duds.

SPEAKER ’s next replenishment load was the last issue made by UNICORN at Leyte before she sailed for Australia on May 22nd; she arrived in Sydney on June 1st. All available replacement airframes were now afloat in CHASER and SPEAKER  and both CVEs would be on station for the final replenishment period on May 22nd before the Fleet withdrew; they issued 18 replacements. At 1800 on the 23rd CHASER and SPEAKER , escorted by H.M.A.S. NAPIER, were detached for Manus. On arriving at Manus on the 29th where the CVEs transferred unserviceable airframes to the air station on Ponam Island. During Operation ICEBERG Two 117 replacement aircraft were carried in the three Replacement Carriers of 30ACS, 78 were transferred to BPF carriers.

Replenishment and Repair in Australia June 1945

On completion of ICEBERG operations, the main part of the BPF was to carry out major replenishment in Australia. After withdrawing from the operating area on May 25th most of the fleet sailed for Australia while some ships, for whom there was no room at Australian ports or who were to take part in the strike at Truk (Operation INMATE), sailed for Manus. The Fleet Train now withdrew from Leyte, to Manus, the last group left on May 25th.

After the first round of operations by the BPF it was apparent that the aviation part of the Fleet Train required a separate organization of its own, so the post of Commodore Air Train (COMAT) and staff were formed with its headquarters in the newly arrived Maintenance Carrier HMS PIONEER. COMAT was responsible, within Rear Admiral Fleet Trains (RAFT) command, for the supply of replacement aircraft and spares from the rear base in Australia to the fleet, for aircraft repairs, for replacement of personnel, and the administration of the aircraft repair-and store ships. Captain H. S. Murray-Smith, C.O. HMS PIONEER was promoted to the rank of Commodore 2nd class and hoisted his broad pennant at 08:00 on June 10th, assuming responsibility for Air Train Logistics from UNICORN’s commanding officer Captain G. M. Merewether.

PIONEER sailed from Sydney on June 16th for passage to Manus to re-establish the aircraft repair facility at the intermediate base. UNICORN remained in Sydney for re-storing before sailing for Brisbane to enter the Cairncross dry dock for an examination of her underwater fittings and bottom painting. On undocking she proceeded to Brett’s Wharf, Hamilton to embark a ferry load of reserve aircraft for delivery to Ponam. UNICORN arrived at Manus on July 21st and anchored near to PIONEER, DEER SOUND and the two Air Store Issue Ships FORT COLVILLE and FORT LANGLEY off Pityilu Island. When PIONEER had arrived on station on June 21st, she had disembarked the RN Forward Aircraft Pool (FAP) to USNAS Pityilu, this was to hold and maintain a shore-based reserve of aircraft; this reserve pool had previously been held afloat on UNICORN and STRIKER, joined by ARBITER and CHASER in May. This was now the centre of the aviation repair group of the Air Train.

A Corsair is lowered onto one of UNICORN's aircraft lighters for ferrying ashore. The Islands of Ponam and  Pityilu were surrounded by coral reefs and only shallow draght vessels could enter the lagoon to reach the landing jetties.,

Support for operations against mainland Japan

The Logistic Support Group was no longer operating out of Leyte, the Replenishment carriers sailed from Manus to the new replenishment areas, now much further north off the Japanese mainland. Because of the additional distance to be covered the replenishment carriers operated in pairs for this round of operations’ air cover was provided by RULER for all. STRIKER and ARBITER were on station for the first replenishment on July 20th. A typical load for this operation was a mix of 24 aircraft 9 Seafires, 7 Avengers, 6 Corsairs, 1 Hellcat and 1 Firefly, however Corsair loses were higher than projected so extra Corsairs were carried. For the next replenishment on July 26th ARBITER and STRIKER provided replacement aircraft; STRIKER sailing for Manus to reload on completion. The third replenishment was carried out by CHASER and SPEAKER ; SPEAKER  sailing for Manus to reload on completion. The fourth replenishment (and last with replacement aircraft) commenced on August 6th with ARBITER and CHASER on station. Both CVEs withdrew to return to Manus on completion.

STRIKER had sailed from Manus on the 4th to return to the replenishment area but the 6th she was ordered to return to Manus, arriving at Seeadler Harbour on the 8th. This change of orders came about as a result of a rethinking of the BPFs participation in the next phase of operations; it had become clear that the Fleet Train could not supply sufficient tankers to meet the fuel needs of TF 37, some ships had to be refuelled by US tankers and even some of the replenishment carriers were pressed into service as auxiliary oilers. Consequently, only a token force was to remain operating off Japan with the US Third Fleet, KING GEORGE V and INDEFATIGABLE with their escorts, the remainder were to withdraw on the 12th and return to Manus to await further orders. Negotiations for a Japanese surrender were also taking place at this time but combat operations were to continue until the morning of August 15th. ARBITER and CHASER transferred as many aircraft as possible before the Fleet left the replenishment area on the 7th.

The Japanese surrender

A little over three weeks after UNICORN had arrived on station the Japanese surrendered on August 15th. This was VJ (Victory over Japan) Day and the order was given to “Splice the Main Brace'”. UNICORN was one of the few ships which had a VJ day dinner; strangely the menu had very Christmas feel to it - Cream of Tomato Soup, Turkey with Peas and Roast Potatoes, Rich Plum Pudding.

Work on repairing aircraft began to ease over the next few weeks and the fleet began to turn its attention to mounting a huge humanitarian relief effort as former colonies were liberated. The Air Repair Group was reduced to UNICORN and FORT LANGLEY by the end of August; PIONEER, DEER SOUND and FORT COLVILLE Sailing for Hong Kong to assist in rebuilding the colony. By this time PIONEER had repaired 24 aircraft and, after test flight, transferred them to the RN FAP while UNICORN repaired 8 aircraft, in addition to preparing 18 aircraft for service from Class II preservation. In the forward area the CVEs ARBITER, CHASER, SPEAKER , and STRIKER, ferried 117 replacement aircraft, transferring seventy-eight to the fleet and bringing back 10 'flyable duds'.

On September 17th UNICORN began the evacuation of units in the Admiralty Islands, loading the stores and equipment of the Forward Aircraft Pool, and the RN presence on Pityilu airstrip was officially withdrawn. She sailed for Brisbane the following day, disembarking the FAP to RNARY Archerfield on the 23rd. A week later she sailed for Manus again, arriving off Ponam at 17:00 on October 6th to begin evacuating the stores and equipment of MSR 4 & 6. The would take several days, last to loaded were the Vengeance TT.IV aircraft of 721 squadron beginning at 10:00 on October 9th; She sailed for Brisbane at 13:15 .

Arriving at Brisbane on October 15th all aircraft and cargo were off loaded to RNARY Archerfield. On the 18th she sailed for her third and final round trip to Manus to complete the evacuation of MONAB IV from Ponam Island. She arrived off Ponam at 16.30 on the 24th and would spend the next six days loading equipment. She sailed from Manus for the final time at 13:30 on October 31st.

Return to the UK and transfer to the Reserve Fleet

When she arrived in Sydney on November 6th 1945, she was ordered to make preparations to return to the UK. Work now began loading aircraft, stores and equipment for return to the UK, and a consignment of 400 tons of food supplied by the Lord Mayor of Sydney’s ‘Food for Britain Appeal’. She sailed from Sydney On November 24th bound for Fremantle.

She arrived at Devonport on January 16th 1946 and after unloading and de-storing was transferred to the Reserve Fleet on the Tanar River. Since UNICORN left the UK in December, 1943, a total of 626 aircraft passed through the hands of the Air Repair Division, these included Albacore, Avenger, Barracuda, Corsair, Firefly, Fulmar, Hellcat, Martinet, Sea Hurricane, Seafire, Swordfish, Vengeance and Walrus aircraft. Additionally, the Department also handled 283 engines and power plants. 63 engines were installed in aircraft or power plants.


 Part Two: Singapore and the Korean War »

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Last modified: 04 June 2024


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

Hobbs, D. (2007) 'Moving bases: Royal Navy Maintenance Carriers and MONABs' Liskeard, Maritime Books



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The duty of the section was to represent the Army and to interpret to the Naval pilots how best to assist the Army in carrying out the task of an assault landing on enemy soil. The work involved apprizing information from returning pilots, checking this against photographic evidence taken and coordinating with other sources of intelligence. The intelligence gained and conclusions had to be passed without delay to the Army HQ, either afloat or ashore.


At the end of June 1945, 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.


Sturtivant, R & Balance, T. (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’ list 899 squadron as conducting DLT on the Escort Carrier ARBITER on August 15th. It is possible that the usual three-day evolution was cancelled due to the announcement of the Japanese surrender on this date and was postponed for a month.