A History of HMS NAIRANA
Starboard broadside view of HMS NAIRANA anchored at Greenock FEBRUARY 17th 1944. © IWM (A 21848)
Following the successful conversion and operation of the first, but short lived, escort carrier HMS
AUDACITY, the Admiralty urgently sought to convert more merchant vessels but all available shipping was reserved for the ministry of war transport; however several incomplete hulls were made available from January 1942.
In January 1942 the hull of the refrigerated cargo carrier MV EMPIRE ACTIVITY was the first vessel requisitioned while building at the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering company in Dundee, This was to be a one off design and she entered service as HMS ACTIVITY. In July 1942 the Admiralty requisitioned three more merchant
hulls, while still on the stocks, for completion as NAIRANA Class escort carriers.
Two of the ships chosen were sisters, fast cargo-passenger ships being built for the Port Line Ltd, of London; the PORT PIRIE by John Brown & Company on the Clyde was to become HMS NAIRANA, and the PORT SYDNEY at Swan Hunter on the Tyne was to become HMS
VINDEX. The third selection was a refrigerated cargo ship building for the Shaw Savill Line at Harland and Wolff’s yard in Belfast, when completed she became HMS
CAMPANIA. All were named after WW1 seaplane carriers. The three carriers were to be built to the same design, the prototype was built by John Brown who supplied the other two companies with copies of the plans, but in reality they were all slightly different. NAIRANA and
VINDEX were only slightly different from each other;
CAMPANIA was sufficiently different and could almost be considered a one off build rather than part of the class. There was one other carrier converted in a British yard, HMS
PRETORIA CASTLE, a former passenger liner requisitioned for An Armed Merchant Cruiser in 1939. Purchased the Admiralty in July 1942 and converted at Swan Hunter, she commissioned in July 1943 but was used only as a trials and training carrier.
First of her class
HMS NAIRANA began life as John Brown Yard No. 577, a fast cargo-passenger vessel ordered for the Port Line Ltd, London. Her keel was laid on November 7th 1941 but her construction was delayed as dockyard labour was diverted to work on priority Admiralty work. The incomplete hull was acquired by the Admiralty on July 9th 1942 for completion as an Escort Aircraft Carrier.
She was launched on May 20th 1943. Her crew began to assemble near the shipyard from July as the ship began to take shape as a carrier. She was sufficiently complete to commission into RN service on November 26th 1943 as HMS NAIRANA, Captain R. M. T. Taylor RN in command. Her build was completed on December 12th 1943 and began her acceptance trials.
The first aircraft to visit the ship were from 778 Naval Trials Squadron, Barracuda BV829 flew out from
RNAS Crail on the 13th but made a Heavy landing causing the undercarriage to collapse. The following day Avenger FN837 successfully conducted deck landing trials.
Working up with 835 & 838 squadrons embarked: December 1943 - January 1944
NAIRANA sailed to start her work up on the Clyde on December 17th. Once at sea she embarked the 4 Swordfish of the newly reformed 838 Squadron from
RNAS Belfast for a work up. One of these aircraft was badly damaged during a night Deck Landing session on the 27th, Swordfish DK779 flown by Sub-Lt S. F. Such, RNVR drifted on landing broke the undercarriage and cracked the rear fuselage.
NAIRANA was allocated 835 Squadron as her air group and they flew out from
RNAS Eglinton, Northern Ireland on New Year’s Eve. This composite squadron operated an anti-submarine flight of 9 Swordfish Mk. II and a fighter flight of 6 Sea Hurricane Mk. IIc.
The flying work up began straight away; this was primarily to work up the ships air departments since the squadron had been aboard HMS CHASER during November and early December 1943. One aspect which proved to be problematic was night Deck Landing Training (DLT) with several aircraft suffering damage, including Swordfish LS272, which suffered an undercarriage collapse on January 12th, and LS370 which crashed on landing on the 19th; both flown by Sub-Lt J.P. Supple, RNVR. Night landing casualties was a problem encountered by all the British built carriers. Having completed their work up 838 Sqn departed for
RNAS Dunino on January 16th.
Anti-submarine exercises were conducted off Larne on the 18th with HM Submarine TANTALUS to complete her work-up period. On January 25th NAIRANA was allocated to Western Approaches Command on for trade protection duties.
Sea Hurricanes NF700 ('7T') and NF672 ('7K') parked on the front of the flight deck of NAIRANA during the squadron work up period, C. January 1944. Note that the Sea hurricane does not have folding wings so fewer aircraft can be parked forward of the crash barriers..
Allocated to Western Approaches Command
: February 1944
NAIRANA (835 Sqn, Swordfish & Sea Hurricane) sailed from the Clyde on January 29th in company with her sister British escort carrier ACTIVITY (819 Sqn, Swordfish & Martlet) to provide air cover for in-bound and out-bound convoys and to conduct anti-submarine sweeps in the Western Atlantic and Bay of Biscay. The two carriers formed part of the 2nd Escort Group (2EG), under the command of Captain Walker, with sloops STARLING, KITE, MAGPIE, WILD GOOSE and WOODPECKER.
Convoys OS.66/ KMS.40, ONS.28 & ON.222: Convoy OS.66/ KMS.40 departed Liverpool on January 24th bound for Freemantle & Port Said and was escorted from January 24th until February 5th. The carriers were joined by ships of the C2 support group, the Destroyer ICARUS, Frigate HMCS ST CATHERINES and the Corvette FENNEL, the group operated in the vicinity of the convoy in support but not actually joining with it. On leaving the combined convoys OS.66/ KMS.40 on February 5th ACTIVITY and NAIRANA briefly switched their cover to the two west bound Atlantic convoys ONS.28 & ON.222; ONS.28 had departed from Liverpool on January 28th bound for Halifax and ON.222 from Liverpool on January 30th bound for New York.
During the first nine days of operations there were 3 flying incidents for 835 Sqn; on February 4th Sub-Lt J. E. Cridland, RNVR in Swordfish HS544 flew into the barrier and damaged another unidentified aircraft parked on the deck. On the 5th Swordfish NE989 failed to return from an anti-submarine (A/S) sweep in position 48°30'N 21°00'W, the pilot Sub-Lt A. F. H. Costello, RNVR, observer Sub-Lt J. Dalton, RNVR & Telegraphist Air Gunner (TAG) Leading Airman G. N. Nield were all killed. There was a second barrier crash on the 7th, Sub-Lt J. E. Cridland, RNVR in LS243 landing on a pitching deck.
Convoys SL.147/MKS.38: beginning on February 7th the escort Group provided air cover for the inbound convoy SL.147/MKS.38 in response to intelligence that the German U-boat Wolf pack IGEL 1 was reported to have 15 submarines active in the area west of Ireland; the two carriers took station within the convoy, the remainder of the escorts operated independently, air cover was maintained until the 11th when the group switched to cover the next outbound convoy. From February 11th to the 13th distant cover was provided for the inbound Convoys HX.278 and CU.13 before resuming A/S sweeps. On the 17th cover was provided for Convoy ON.224 which was under threat from the HAI group of U-Boats.
On February 8th a Martlet from 819 Sqn landed on NAIRANA, FN136 ('T') flown by Lt. J. O. Large, RNVR ended in the barrier suffering minor damage. On the 19th 3 aircraft were put out of action when Swordfish LS355 piloted by the Sqn C.O., Lt. Cdr T. T. Miller RN, broke through the barrier and hit two Sea Hurricanes, NF723
And another unidentified machine, in the deck park. Miller had made three unsuccessful approaches prior to the incident and appeared to come in at full throttle for his final one; an enquiry into the crash resulted in Lt. Cdr Miller being relieved of command and the Senior Observer Lt. Cdr E. E. Barringer, RNVR was to replace him.
Convoys 0S.69 /KMS.43: this combined convoy departed from Liverpool for Gibraltar and Freetown on February 23rd and the two carriers joined the Destroyer ORP BURZA (polish), Frigates TOWY and LA DECOUVERTE (Free Finch), HM Corvettes NARCISSUS, ORCHIS, Free French Corvettes ACONIT, RENONCULE, and ROSELYS to provide cover from the 24th. The two convoys spilt on March 5th and NAIRANA escorted the Gibraltar section KMS.43G into port, arriving on the 6th.
On March 2nd Sea Hurricane NF700 was written off when it struck the rounddown landing on and broke its back, the aircraft was arrested by the barrier but the tail section was only connected to rear fuselage but control wires and doped fabric; the machine was a write off. The next day one of the Fulmar night fighters, DR673 flown by Sub-Lt I. C. Faulconer, RNVR was also written off when it struck the rounddown landing on; the approach was too low and the pilot made no corrections, on striking the rounddown the aircraft broke into two sections, the aft fuselage and tail section fell onto the stern while the wings and engine half careered up the deck and came to rest adjacent to the bridge with its starboard wing over the edge of the deck. Both aircraft were jettisoned overboard. Tragedy struck 835 squadron again on March 4th, Swordfish LS355 went over the starboard side during night deck landing, the pilot Sub-Lt K. G. Wilmot, RNVR & TAG Leading Airman W. G. Ferguson, RNZN were killed but the observer Sub-Lt A. G. Arber was rescued.
March 23rd 1944: Sea Hurricane NF700 ('7T') after it struck the rounddown landing on breaking its back before entering the barrier.
Convoy MKF.29: this convoy had depart from Port Said on March 2nd bound for Liverpool. After refuelling and storing ship the carriers sailed with the Cruisers GLASGOW, HMCS PRINCE ROBERT, Destroyer WINCHELSEA, Sloops CRANE, CYGNET, REDPOLE, and WOODCOCK on March 9th. They provided cover until the 15th when the two carriers proceeded to the Clyde. The remaining pair of Fulmars of the 784B detachment left the hip on reaching the Clyde. NAIRANA anchored off Helensburgh and leave was granted. They now parted company with ACTIVITY which was released from operations with Western Approaches Command.
Convoy OS.72/ KMS.46 departed Liverpool on March 23rd bound for Freemantle & Gibraltar. NAIRANA and HM Frigates BAYNTUN, FOLEY and HELMSDALE, Corvette PENNYWORT and patrol vessel KILBRIDE provided escort from March 24th, the convoy spilt April 5th KMS.46G arrived Gibraltar April 6th. After refuelling and storing ship NAIRANA and escorts sailed on April 10th to support convoys SL.154 and MKS.45.
Convoy SL154/ MKS45 formed at sea off Gibraltar on April 11th, Convoy SL.154 (From Freetown) and MKS.45 (from Port Said) bound for Liverpool. Air cover was provided until April 22nd. There were two flying incidents on passage, both Swordfish; LS271 crashed into the sea on take-off after the starboard wingtip struck the island, the pilot Sub-Lt H. R. D. Wilson , RNVR and observer Sub-Lt E. H. McGown, RNVR were rescued by the Corvette CLOVER. The following day NF142 piloted by Sub-Lt A. J. Hunt, RNVR entered the barrier.
NAIRANA’s movements for the rest of April are unclear but she is next recorded as arriving at Bangor Northern Ireland at 18:30 on May 2nd then arriving at Belfast
Lough on May 11th.
A/S sweep and cover for convoys SL.157/ MKS.48 and SL.158/ MKS.49:
She sailed again on May 12th to conduct an A/S sweep off Londonderry with the 15th Escort Group (Frigate INGLES, LOUIS, LAWSON, LORING, MOUNSEY and NARBOROUGH), Sea Hurricane NF673 flown by Sub-Lt C. W. G. Richardson, RNVR crashed into the barrier once flying operations commenced. She provided distant cover for the inbound combined convoy SL.157/ MKS.48 during the 16th, operating with vessels of the 15th Escort Group before resuming A/S sweeps. Beginning on the 25th she switched to operate with the 4th Escort Group (Destroyer HIGHLANDER, HM Frigates BAYNTUN, FOLEY and HELMSDALE, HM Corvettes KENILWORTH CASTLE, and PORTCHESTER CASTLE) and covered the inbound convoy SL.158/ MKS.49 bound for Liverpool. On the morning of May 26th 835 Squadron’s Sea Hurricanes saw their first
aerial combat, at 07:20 Sub-Lt A. R. Burgham, RNVR in NF672 ('7K') and Sub-Lt Richardson in JS304 intercepted a Ju290 German maritime patrol aircraft in position 41°03'N 18°27'W shooting it down; however the victory was marred by tragedy, on breaking away from attack Sub-Lt Richardson flew into the sea and was killed, his body was recovered by HIGHLANDER. A second Ju290 was shot down at 16:15 in position 41°33'N 18°37'W by Sub-Lt S. A. Mearns, RNVR in NF698 ('7D') and Sub-Lt F. Wallis, RNVR in NF691, 5 crew picked and taken prisoner by INGLIS.
ACTIVITY joined the convoy on the 28th; she was replaced by
EMPEROR the following day when she detached to cover convoy OS.78. NAIRANA remained with this convoy until it reached the Irish Sea and then detached and proceeded to the Clyde arriving at Greenock on June 3rd. There were two landing accidents on passage; Swordfish LS179 ('H') piloted by Sub-Lt A. Hunt, RNVR was damaged after making as heavy night landing, on the 22nd and Sea Hurricane JS248 flown by Sub-Lt A. R. Burgham entered the barrier on the 25th.
Convoys KMF.32 & MKF32: NAIRANA next sailed with B4 Escort Group (Destroyer HIGHLANDER, frigates HELMSDALE, BAYNTUN & FOLEY, corvettes KENILWORTH CASTLE, PORCHESTER CASTLE & PEVENSEY CASTLE) to cover the Gibraltar bound convoy KMF.32 which had departed from the Clyde on June 11th. The passage was marked by very bad weather which resulted in little flying activity but it also prevented any U-boats or Luftwaffe activity either. NAIRANA and her group stayed with KMF32 until the 18th when they detached for Gibraltar. She remained in harbour at Gibraltar until the 27th when she sailed to rendezvous with convoy MKF32 on the 28th. This convoy had departed from Port Said on June 21st bound for Liverpool. Some aircraft had been operating ashore at RNAS North Front and these re-embarked once the carrier was at sea; one of these, Sea Hurricane NF672 ('7K') flown by Sub-Lt K. W. Atkinson, RNVR crashed into the barrier landing on from North Front, Swordfish NF142 ('G') piloted by Sub-Lt R. H. Broome, RNVR broke its tail oleo on landing.
On reaching home waters NAIRANA proceeded to the Clyde to undergo repairs; she disembarked her squadron to
RNAS Burscough on July 4th before entering a Clyde dockyard for dry-docking and voyage repairs. Captain. V. N. Surtees DSO, RN assumed command while she was in dockyard hands.
She was in dockyard hands for the next five weeks, and re-embarked 835 Sqn on August 13th. While seashore the squadron’s Swordfish MK.IIs were replaced by the new MK.III variant; this change saw the departure of some of the aircrew, the Telegraphist Air Gunners had no role in the revised cockpit of the MK.III which was now equipped with a new radar and communications equipment, all to be operated by the observer.
On emerging from the dockyard she began a short shakedown and flying triaging session for 835 Sqn, in particular for the new, heavier and slower, Swordfish. There were only two landing accidents during this period, both involved Sea Hurricanes; NR893 flown by Sub-Lt R. H. Brown, RNVR had a night landing accident on August 15th and on the 17th JS274 flown by Sub-Lt K. W. Atkinson, RNVR the air speed indicator went unserviceable, aircraft entered the barrier.
Convoys KMF.34 & MKF.34: NAIRANA sailed from the Clyde on August 24th to escort Convoy KMF.34 (Clyde to Port Said) on its passage to Gibraltar. This convoy included the CVE
REAPER on a ferry voyage to deliver aircraft to Gibraltar and eight troopships bound for the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. She escorted the convoy until September 1st when she put into Gibraltar with
REAPER. There was one flying accident on passage; on the 25th Sea Hurricane NF688 flown by Sub-Lt P. H. Blanco, RNVR landed with its arrester hook up and entered the barrier.
After nine days at Gibraltar she sailed on September 10th to rendezvous with the return convoy MKF.34 which had departed from Port Said for Liverpool on September 3rd.
REAPER is listed as sailing as part of the convoy escort (aircraft?). This fast convoy arrived at Liverpool on the 14th, MARANA and
REAPER detached for the Clyde.
MARANA next spent 14 days in the hands of a Clyde Dockyard for repairs.
Her squadron flew ashore to
RNAS Machrihanish on the 28th, while there 5 additional Swordfish were received and the Sea Hurricanes were
withdrawn anew fighter flight of 4 Wildcat Mk.VI was substituted. . The squadron re-embarked on October 4th and the ship began a short work-up in
readiness for a temporary loan to the Home Fleet.
HMS NAIRANA underway with Sea Hurricanes ranged forward . ..
Reallocated for service with the Home Fleet : October 1944
During early October NAIRANA was prepared for operations escorting convoys to Russia, being reallocated to the Home Fleet from October 14th. She arrived at Scapa Low, the Orkney Islands on October 15th in company with
Convoys JW.61 and RA.61, codenamed Operation TRIAL: NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat) joined her sister British escort carrier
VINDEX (811 Sqn, 12 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat) and the American built
TRACKER (853 Sqn, 10 Avenger, & 6 Wildcats) for the covering force for the safe passage of Convoys JW.61 and RA.61 to and from North Russia.
The covering force comprised of the following vessels: distant cover Cruiser DIDO with the 17th Destroyer Flotilla ONSLOW (D17), ORWELL, ORIBI, OPPORTUNE, OFFA, OBEDIENT; Close escort was provided by 8th escort group, Destroyer WALKER, Sloop LARK, LAPWING, Corvettes CAMELLIA, OXLIP and RHODODENDRON; Carriers NAIRANA,
VINDEX (Flag CS10), screened by 15th escort group, Frigates INGLES, LOUIS, LAWSON, LORING, MOUNSEY, NARBOROUGH) and 21st escort group, Frigates CONN, BYRON, FITZROY, DEANE, RUPERT, REDMILL.
The force sailed from Scapa on October 21st to rendezvous with convoy JW.61 on the 22nd. The 34 merchant vessel convoy and the close escort had sailed from Loch Ewe o the 20th. JW.61 arrived at Kola inlet on the 28th without loss. NAIRANA’s 835 Sqn had two Swordfish damaged in landing accidents on passage, both on the 27th when the ship was pitching and rolling in a heavy swell; NR897 ('A') piloted by Lt. G. E. Sadler, RNVR and NR924 ('K') piloted by Sub-Lt P. D. Urwin, RNVR.
Local leave was granted but the run ashore at Kola Inlet was quite a shock to the system - those who went ashore found there was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Everyone had to stay on the road, deviation from the road brought attention from armed Soviets soldiers- many of whom were women.
The return convoy, RA.61 sailed form Kola Inlet on November 2nd, later that day the Frigate MOUNSEY was hit by an acoustic torpedo fired by U-295 forcing her to return to the Kola Inlet for temporary repairs. NAIRANA and
TRACKER detached for Scapa on the 9th, sailing for the Clyde the same day and arrived on the 10th to undergo voyage repairs and leave was granted. The Wildcats were put ashore to
RNAS Machrihanish on arrival on the Clyde.
After eleven days of repairs and crew leave NAIRANA sailed in company with TRUMPETER on November 24th to return to Scapa, her fighter flight re-joined on passage. On reaching Scapa on the 25th the squadron was put ashore to RNAS Hatston on the 25th. Two additional Wildcats were received here bringing the fighter flight up to a strength of 6 aircraft before re-joining the carrier on the 29th in preparation for her second Arctic convoy escort voyage.
Convoys JW.62 and RA.62 codenamed Operation ACUMEN: For this operation NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcat) was parsed with her sister British escort carrier
CAMPANIA (813 Sqn, 12 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat).
The covering force sailed from Scapa on November 30th and comprised of the following vessels: Carrier Force under the command of Rear Admiral R. R. McGrigor in
CAMPANIA and NAIRANA, A.A. cruiser BELLONA, and destroyers CAESAR, CAMBRIAN, CAPRICE and CASSANDRA of 7th Destroyer Flotilla, OBEDIENT, OFFA, ONSLAUGHT, ONSLOW, ORIBI and ORWELL of the 17th Destroyer Flotilla.
JW.62 had sailed from Loch Ewe on the 29th with a strong Close Escort of vessels from the British 7th and 8th and 20th Escort Groups - Destroyer BULLDOG, KEPPEL, WESTCOTT, Sloops CYGNET, LARK, LAPWING, Frigates BAHAMAS, SOMALILAND TAVY, TORTOLA, Corvettes ALLINGTON CASTLE, BAMBOROUGH CASTLE, EGLANTINE (Norwegian), STARWORT, & TUNSBERG CASTLE (Norwegian) and the Canadian 9th Escort Group frigates LOCH ALVIE, MONNOW, NENE, PORT COLBOURNE, ST JOHN and STORMONT.
The Carrier Force rendezvoused with the Convoy on December 1st. he outward passage was almost without incident, one shadowing Bv138 was shot down by Wildcats from
CAMPANIA’s 813 Squadron (date and aircraft IDs not known) and approaching Kola Inlet on the 6th Swordfish NR934 (813 Sqn) carried out a Depth Charge attack on a U-boat at approximate position 69°40' N 33°35' E which was possibly sunk. All 34 merchant ships arrived without loss.
The return convoy RA.62 sailed from the Kola Inlet on December 10th, the following day the destroyer CASSANDRA was hit by a torpedo from U-365 which managed to slip away; this submarine was sunk on the night of the 13th by depth charges dropped by two Swordfish from 813 squadron. On the 12th the Norwegian Corvette TUNSBERG CASTLE sank after striking mine 110 miles NW of Kola.
NAIRANA’s fighters were inaction on the 11th when Sub-Lt P. H. Blanco, RNVR in Wildcat JV644 made their first successful interception, shooting down a Bv138 long-range reconnaissance flying boat. On the 12th Sub-Lt I. L. T. Millar RNVR in JV644 destroyed a Ju88 torpedo bomber but was damaged by return fire and failed to return to the ship. A second Bv138 was shot down in flames at 10:45 on the 12th by Sub-Lt G. D. Gordon, RNVR in JV702 in position 71°51'N 22°07'E.
There were two flying incidents on passage; on the 12th Sub-Lt A. R Burgham, RNVR made a heavy night landing Wildcat JV656 causing minor damage, and on the 13th Swordfish NR891 ('G') piloted by Sub-Lt E. H. McEwen, RNVR suffered engine failure after take-off and returned to the ship.
CAMPANIA and NAIRANA arrived back at Scapa on December 18th and sailed for the Clyde the following day escorted by CAESAR (Captain D6), CAPRICE, and CAMBRIAN. On arrival at Greenock on the 20th.
NAIRANA sailed from the Clyde on December 28th, arriving at Scapa oi the 29th and disembarked 835 squadron to RNAS Hatston. She was now allocated to participate in Operation SAMPLER planned for early January.
Operation SAMPLER called for a night sweep to locate and sink German shipping in the Leads between Sildegabet and Bradsmund just off the west coast of German-occupied Norway. NAIRANA reembraced her squadron on New Year’s Eve 1944 and sailed on January 1st in company with the Cruiser BERWICK, CVE TRUMPETER (846 Sqn, 8 Avenger & 8 Wildcat), Destroyers CARRON, ONSLAUGHT, OBEDIENT, ORWELL, ZEALOUS, and ZEST. The operation was cancelled owing to continuing adverse weather and the small force arrived back at Scapa on January 5th. 835 fighter flight was put ashore to RNAS Hatston on arrival.
She sailed from Scapa on January 8th to return to the Clyde, her Swordfish flew ashore to
RNAS Machrihanish on the 9th and the ship’s company was granted leave. She put to sea on January 222nd to re-embark her Swordfish before departing for Scapa on the 23rd.
On arrival at Scapa she prepared to undertake another attempt at a night sweep to locate and sink German shipping in the Leads between Sildegabet and Bradsmund, codenamed Operation WINDED.
Operation WINDED was conducted by a larger force than that for SAMPLER, the force comprised of the Cruiser BERWICK, Escort Carriers
CAMPANIA (813 Sqn, 12 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat), NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcat), and PREMIER (856 Sqn, 12 Avengers & 4 Wildcats), Destroyers MYNGS (Captain (D) 23rd Destroyer Flotilla), ALGONQUIN (RCN), CAVENDISH, SCORPION, , SCOURGE, and SIOUX(RCN). They sailed from Scapa on January 27th. Swordfish from NAIRANA and
CAMPANIA hit four merchant ships between 1000 and 2500 tons with bombs and Rocket Projectiles. One was left burning, another aground. All aircraft returned safely. The force arrived back at Scapa on the 29th.
835 squadron were put ashore to RNAS Hatston on February 1st but re-embarked again on the 5th when NAIRANA sailed for her third Russian convoy escort duty codenamed Operation HOTBED.
Convoys JW.64 and RA.64 Operation HOTBED: For this operation NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcat) was parsed with her sister British escort carrier
CAMPANIA ((Flag CS1) 813 Sqn, 12 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat), A.A. cruiser BELLONA, screened by elements of the 2nd, 17th and 23rd Destroyer Flotillas; ZAMBESI (D2), ONLOW (D17), ONSLAUGHT, OPPORTUNE, ORWELL, SERAPIS, SIOUX (RCN), ZEST, and ZEALOUS; this dorce sailed from Scapa on February 5th. The convoy departed from the Clyde on February 3rd, Close Escort was provided by vessels from the 7th and 8th Escort Groups; Destroyer WHITEHALL, Sloops CYGNET (Senior Officer, Escort Group), LAPWING, LARK, Corvettes ALNWICK CASTLE, DENBIGH CASTLE, BAMBOROUGH CASTLE, BLUEBELL ,RHODODENDRON.
The escorting force rendezvoused with the convoy on the 6th but late that afternoon it was spotted by a chance sighting by a Ju 88 on a meteorological flight and their position reported. This aircraft was intercepted by two pilots from 813 squadron which engaged the JU88 at 17:18 in position 63°36' N 2°14' W and shot it down; one Wildcat, JV434 ('Z5'), was hit be return fire and crashed into the sea. Now alerted the Germans began deploying the eight U-boats of the 'Rasmus' wolfpack in the area of the Bjørnøya Passage ahead of the convoy.
On the 7th a force of 48 Ju88 torpedo bombers, of KG 26 was detected on radar by the escort force but the attack was not pressed home as a result of the German spotter plane failing to pass on information about the convoys speed and bearing, Wildcats from both carriers gave chase and 6 enemy aircraft were shot down and a seventh fell to anti-aircraft fire from DENBIGH CASTLE./p>
On the 9th Wildcats from both Carriers attacked JU88s,
CAMPANIA’s 813 Sqn shooting down 2 and NAIRANA’s 835 Sqn claiming another possibly destroyed. A second mass torpedo bomber attack was launched on the 10th when 32 aircraft (14 from II/KG 26 and 16 from III/KG 26), launched in two waves about one hour apart; they tried to break through the convoy’s fighter and gun defences. Again these attacks failed to inflict any damage although the Germans claimed it a major successes; they suffered the loss of another seven aircraft to the fighters from both
CAMPANIA and NAIRANA and the convoy' anti-aircraft guns.
At 00:13 on the 13th, U-992 attacked the convoy in position 69º20' N, 33º33' E hitting the Corvette DENBIGH CASTLE with a single torpedo. She was towed into the Kola Inlet by BLUEBELL and a Russian Tug, she was beached, but later capsized and was declared a total loss. JW.64 arrived at the Kola Inlet later that day without further loss.
The return convoy RA.64, which comprised of 33 merchant ships bound for Loch Ewe, departed from the Kola Inlet on February 17th. The close escort sailed in advance in the afternoon of the 16th to conduct an A/S hunt outside Kola Inlet; during this night operation U-425 was sunk by ALNWICK CASTLE and LARK. The Germans had in fact assembled as many as six U-boats off the entrance of the Kola inlet and they struck as the convoy assembled on the morning of the 17th; at 10.15 LARK was hit in the stern by a single torpedo fired from U-968. She was towed into the Kola Inlet and beached near Rosta and was later declared a total loss. At 11:48 U-968 struck for a second time, the American merchantman THOMAS SCOTT was hit on the starboard side by one torpedo while trying to take position in the forming convoy, her passengers and crew abandoned ship and it sank later that day. At 17:30 BLUEBELL was struck in the stern by a single torpedo from U-711 just after increasing speed after she apparently detected the U-boat about 30 miles east-northeast of Kildin Island. The corvette blew up as the hit detonated her depth charges and sank in less than 30 seconds; only one crewman survived.
One of NAIRANA's Swordfish was lost at 23:30 on the first day out, NS188 ('X') went overboard after striking the island attempting to take-off from the pitching deck; the crew was picked up ONSLAUGHT. The only fighter intercepts occurred on the 20th, all involving Wildcats from NAIRANA’s 835 Squadron; at 10:25 in position 72°33' N 20°37' E Sub-Lt O. K. Armitage, RNZNVR in JV702 ('YD') and Sub-Lt N. W. Sargent, RNVR in JV748 ('YZ') attacked a Ju88, it was last seen with both engines on fire and smoking, probably destroyed. At 10:45 a second Ju88 was attacked and shot down in position 72°32' N 20°36' E by Sub-Lt P. H. Blanco, RNVR in JV712 ('YV') and Sub-Lt G. D. Gordon, RNVR in JV718 ('YW').
From the 25th the convoy was joined by additional Destroyers MYNGS (D23), CAVALIER, SCORPION, SCOURGE, SAVAGE, and ZEBRA to bolster the escort. Tthe covering Force arrived back at Scapa on February 27th without further incident, RA.64 arrived at Loch Ewe on the 28th without further loss.
835 squadron was flown ashore to RNAS Hatston on March 5th, re-joining the ship on the 8th for flying training and exercises. They were put ashore again on the 16th before re-joining on the 22nd in preparation for her next operation against enemy shipping on the Norwegian coast.
Operations MUSCULAR and PREFIX, day and night strikes against enemy shipping on the Norwegian coast: MUSCULAR was a night strike in the Leads between Stadlandet and Bredsund while PREFIX I called for a day strike in the Leads between Trondheim Fjord and Kristiansund North and PREFIX II a second day strike if targets were located.
Force 2, comprising of the Escort Carriers SEARCHER ((Flag CS 1) 882 Sqn, 20 Wildcat), PUNCHER (821 Sqn, 9 Barracuda & 12 Wildcat), NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcat) , QUEEN (853 Sqn, 8 Avenger & 8 Wildcat), Cruisers BELLONA and DIDO, Destroyers ONSLOW (D 17), SERAPIS, CARYSFORT, ZEST, ZEALOUS, HAIDA (RCN), and IROQUOIS (RCN) sailed from Scapa on March 24th.
On reaching the operational area on the morning-of the 26th the weather was marginal, however PREFIX I commenced with a strike by aircraft from QUEEN and SEARCHER; 9 Avengers, each armed four 500lb bombs, and 4 Wildcats (top cover) from 853 Sqn escorted by 19 Wildcats flown 882 Sqn to attack shipping in Trondheim Leads and North Kristiansand. As they approached the coastline at 300 feet, conditions were better and two ships, as a tanker escorted by a minesweeper, were staffed by two flights of Wildcats. The force was intercepted by a group of eight or ten Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs which were engaged by two flights of Wildcats which shot down three and damaged two others. The Avengers in the strike package found no suitable targets so they had to jettison their bombs and return to the fleet. One of PUNCHER's Barracudas, failed to return from an A/S patrol.
MUSCULAR was to have commenced on the night of the 26th a night strike by NAIRANA; s Swordfish against targets in the Leads between Stadlandet and Bredsund but bad weather forced this part of the operation to be cancelled. The bad weather continued throughout the 27th and the task force remained off the coast waiting for it to clear.
PREFIX II was carried out in slightly better weather on the 28th when 15 Wildcats from 882 Sqn launched to strike targets at Aalsund, 7 of these aircraft were fighter bombers each carrying 2 2501b SAP bombs. The strike was led through rain, sleet and poor visibility by a single Firefly Night Fighter from 764 Sqn specially embarked in NAIRANA for this operation. A low level attack was made on 2 merchant ships seen alongside a quay but no hits were observed. As they withdrew the fighters strafed a W/T station on Vikero Island leaving it burning. Once all aircraft had landed on the force withdrew to return to Scapa.
This had been NAIRANA’s last operation with the Home Fleet, on reaching Scapa on the 29th 835 squadron flew ashore to RNAS Hatston for the last time. NAIRANA sailed from Scapa on March 31st, 835 squadron was disbanded on the same day.
Under refit and transferred to Flag Officer Carrier Training
NAIRANA arrived on the Clyde on April 1st 1945 and her crew complement was adjusted to reflect her new role, it was reduced to 3/5 of her operational complement. She was now to undergo a refit in a Belfast Dockyard.
NAIRANA was transferred to the administration of Flag Officer Carrier Training on May 15th 1945 but would not take up her new role until August.
In late June Captain Surtees left the ship to take command of
he was replaced by Captain G. H. Beale DSO, OBE, RN at
the start of July. NAIRANA emerged from the refit at the start of August and undertook harbour trials on the 7th but she hit a jetty when leaving dry dock and her return to service was delayed until early September.
The first aircraft to visit the ship after her refit was Seafire NN172 from 778 Service Trials Sqn at
RNAS Arbroath to conduct trials on September 10th. Beginning on the 20th she provided a deck for pilots of 768 DLT squadron operating from
RNAS Ballyhalbert, Northern Ireland. Pilots would fly out to the ship for prearranged time slots for landing practice and return ashore on completion. On the 28th Barracuda ME287 joined the carrier as the ship’s flight aircraft, this machine had been outfitted with cameras and cine-cameras for use by the RN Film Unit Belfast.
On October 30th NAIRANA embarked the 12 Barracuda Mk.IIIs of 860 Sqn of the Royal Netherlands Navy from
RNAS Ayr for 2½ weeks of carrier flying and deck landing training. They returned to
RNAS Ayron November 15th with an almost perfect record for deck landings; Barracuda ME204 piloted by Lt. Jellema RNethN successfully caught an arrester wire but the prop struck the barrier on November 5th.
The 12 Firefly FR.Is of 816 squadron joined the ship from
RNAS Machrihanish for DLT on November 23rd for 2½ weeks of carrier flying and deck landing training. There were 6 landing accidents during this period; on November 30th Sub-Lt W. Kirkland, RNVR in DK543 missed all the arrester wires and entered the barrier, Sub-Lt B. M. Lyndon, RNVR in PP400 caught last wire and touched the barrier with the prop. On December 1st Lt. W. Rylatt, RNVR missed all the arrester wires and entered the barrier in PP401, while Sub-Lt Kirkland had a second landing mishap in PP403, he struck the rounddown and the aircraft ditched over the port side. He was safely rescued. Sub-Lt Rylatt had his second accident on the 9th flying in MB678 he made a heavy landing and the undercarriage collapsed. The final accident occurred on December 10th, Mid D. J. Bright, RNVR in DK542 touch the barrier with his prop. The squadron left he ship to return to
RNAS Machrihanish on December 16th. On returning to the Clyde she was stood down form active service.
Loaned to the Royal Netherlands Navy
On January 23rd 1946 she entered a Clyde dockyard for further repairs and work serried out to prepare her for transfer to the Dutch Navy on loan. She was officially handed over to the Royal Netherlands Navy on March 23rd 1946 and commissioned as HNLMS KAREL DOORMAN, the first aircraft carrier of the Koninklijke Marine.
She was returned to the Royal Navy on May 28th 1948 and immediately sold back to her original owners, the Port Line for mercantile service and was converted back into a cargo ship at Belfast emerging as the as MV PORT VICTOR. She was scrapped at Faslane, starting in July 1971.
The MV PORT VICTOR
23 June 2022
Sources used in compiling this account:
Click here for a list of
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries
Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries
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