The good weather allowed for the two strike forces to obtain their desired heights and to take the best route over the mountains. No enemy aircraft were seen by the strike aircraft or the Fleet and the flak around the TIRPITZ was much less than anticipated. The attack was carried out by both fighters and bombers; fighters strafing the defences from a low height and bombers pressing home an accurate attack. The losses during the attack were remarkably small. One Barracuda was shot down over the target and another by shore batteries, both after dropping their bombs. A third Barracuda was lost taking off from VICTORIOUS and a Hellcat ditched when unable to land on EMPEROR. Both strikes returned and landed on safely with the exception of the one Hellcat. The question of repeating the attack the next day was considered but owing to fatigue of the air crews and serious damage reported to TIRPITZ this was abandoned and the force withdrew to the westward After withdrawing to Scapa 896 squadron disembarked to RNAS Hatston, Orkney, on April 6th, 881 remaining on board. This was a short break before re-embarking on the 11th to prepare for Operation PITCHBOWL.
Operation PITCHBOWL: This called for the provision of fighter protection to RAF Beaufighters operating in two strikes against shipping in the Norwegian Leads provided by three CVES of the Home Fleet. The force, comprising of ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers) CVEs EMPEROR, PURSUER, FENCER, Cruisers BERWICK, and SHEFFIELD, escorted by Destroyers MUSKETEER, METEOR, MARNE, MATCHLESS, ONSLAUGHT, PIORUN, and SIOUX, sailed on the 13th, for the flying off position 62°00’N, 2°30’E.
Visibility was poor throughout the day and no flying took place. On the following day, the first RAF strike was postponed owing to weather and the force reversed its course. There was no improvement in the weather by the afternoon of the 14th and the first RAF strike was cancelled. The following morning was the same and the operation was abandoned. The force returned to Scapa arriving p.m. on 15th.
Operation PLANET: This was a repetition of Operation TUNGSTEN, again involving two forces. Force 7 – Battleship ANSON (VA, 2IC Home Fleet), Fleet Carriers VICTORIOUS and FURIOUS, Cruiser KENT, Destroyers ALGONQUIN, KEMPENFELT (Captain (D) 26), KELVIN, SIOUX, SWIFT, VENUS, VIGILANT. Force 8 -Cruisers ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers), JAMAICA, CVEs EMPEROR, SEARCHER, PURSUER, STRIKER, Destroyers JAVELIN, ORP PIORUN, SERAPIS, UNDAUNTED, URSA, WAKEFUL, and WIZARD. Both Forces sailed from Scapa on Friday April 21st. The attack was planned for April 24th and involved 40 Barracudas with 40 escort fighters, when the forces arrived in the area on the 23rd the weather forecasts were unsuitable and they reversed course for 48 hours. Weather on the following day was equally bad. Both forces proceeded to the flying off position but there was no improvement and the Vice Admiral, Second in Command, abandoned the operation and proceeded to carry out Operation RIDGE ABLE.
Operation RIDGE ABLE saw PURSUER, in
company with the Fleet carriers VICTORIOUS and FURIOUS, and the CVEs
STRIKER, conduct attacks on enemy
shipping in Bodo and Rorvik areas respectively. A second stage,
codename RIDGE BAKER had to be cancelled, again due to bad weather.
However "RIDGE ABLE" did result in 3 ships sunk off Bodo and a 4th
damaged. The force arrived back at Scapa on the 28th, PURSUER being
released from her detached duties she sailed on April 30th for
Liverpool to undergo repairs.
June 1944 - a wildcat is prepared for launch during anti-submarine sweeps off the Western approaches in support of the D-Day landings in Normandy. For this operation all allied aircraft are sporting 'invasion stripes' to identify them as friendly forces.
On June 5th all available hands were employed to paint the aircraft with the black and white "Bumble Bee" recognition stripes that all allied aircraft were to wear for the invasion. On June 8th 896 squadron lost another pilot; Sub-Lt. J. M. Barber was killed when his aircraft, JV541 crashed into the sea after an accelerated take off.
There were few contacts to investigate during this operation but one enemy aircraft was intercepted and destroyed; at 18:35 on June 9th Lt A. C. Martin, RNZNVR and Sub-Lt. D. Symons, RNVR of 896 squadron attacked and shot down a Ju88 at 49°4'N, 7°58'W. PURSUER was released from NEPTUNE operations on June 11th and on arriving back on the Clyde on the 12th was allocated for operations with the Mediterranean fleet.
Reorganisation of the 7th Naval Fighter Wing
A change of policy regarding the
structure of the Naval Fighter Wings resulted in change to the
number of squadrons embarked in the escort carriers; the two
squadrons embarked in each carrier were to be combined to form a
single 24 aircraft squadron, the other disbanded. On June 12th 1944
896 squadron was officially disbanded aboard PURSUER, her aircraft
and aircrew being absorbed into 881 Squadron.
800 absorbed 804 in EMPEROR, and 882 absorbed 898 in SEARCHER, leaving only three squadrons, but the same total number of aircraft in the Wing.
PURSUER spent the period June 12th to
July 15th based on the Clyde, conducting exercises and drills in
preparation for sailing to Malta to conduct operations in the
The CVEs PURSUER,
SEARCHER, Fighter Direction ship ULSTER QUEEN, Anti-Aircraft sloop
STORK and frigate AWE, sailed from the Clyde at 22:30 on July 15th
1944 to rendezvous at 05:07 in the Irish Sea with Task Group 120.8
(USS TEXAS and screen consisting of USS JEFFERS, BUTLER, HERNDON,
MURPHY, SHUBRICK, and GHERARDI) for passage to the Mediterranean
PURSUER is recorded in the log of the USS TEXAS as not operational, EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, and SEARCHER had operational aircraft embarked. It is assumed that PURSUER had either embarked s load of spare aircraft sufficient to make flying operations impossible or her squadron was not fully operational..
The convoy passed Gibraltar in the early hours of July 22nd, and at 09:39 the USS TEXAS, HM Ships EMPEROR, and KHEDIVE, escorted by USS JEFFERS, SHUBRICK, and HERNDON, detached and preceded for Oran at 15 knots. The remainder of the convoy consisting of HM Ships SEARCHER, PURSUER, ULSTER QUEEN, STORK and AWE escorted by the USS BUTLER, GHERARDI, and LARSH continued on for Malta. The destroyer USS MARSH joined at 21:45, and at 11:35 the following day HMS ATTACKER joined the convoy. The convoy arrived at Grand Harbour, Malta 08:51 July 25th.
Later that morning 10 aircraft were flown off to RNAS Ta Kali for pilot training. The aircraft were to spend one week ashore training 12 pilots as spotters and 12 as fighter bombers for the upcoming operation. A less than ideal amount of time to spend practicing a technique not previously trained for by the squadron which only received their tasking orders on arrival at Malta. The fact that all pilots could not gain experience in both roles severely handicapped their effectiveness in the coming operations.
At Malta PURSUER joined Carrier Force TF88 for Operation DRAGOON, the invasion of Southern France. The Carrier Force comprised of two Task Groups; TG 88.1 HM Ships ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Troubridge, CTF 88 and CTG 88.1), COLOMBO, ATTACKER (879 squadron with 28 Seafire), EMPEROR (800 squadron with 23 Hellcat), KHEDIVE (899 squadron with - 26 Seafire), PURSUER (881 squadron with 24 Wildcat), SEARCHER (882 squadron with 28 Wildcat), with 7 destroyers, TYRIAN, TEAZER, TROUBRIDGE (Screen Commander), and US Ships JEFFERS, H.P. JONES, MARSH, NIRLACK and MURPHY. TG 88.2 comprised of the CVEs USS TULAGI (Rear Admiral Durgin USN, CTG 88.2, VOF-1 with 24 Hellcat), USS KAZAN BAY (VF-74 with 24 Hellcat), HUNTER (807 squadron with 24 Seafire, plus 1 Swordfish) and STALKER (809 squadron with 23 Seafire), AA Cruisers CALEDON and COLOMBO, 6 US destroyers.
PURSUER sailed for tactical exercises off Malta with TG88.1 on August 1st, sailing at 07:30. At 19:40 Ships of the Task Group conducted a barrage fire exercise. The force continued to exercise off Malta between August 1st and 11th.
Task Force 88 sailed from Malta at 17:45 on Saturday August 12th. On the morning of the 14th PURSUER fuelled the Destroyer TYRIAN. Prior to sailing for DRAGOON four spare Wildcats were embarked in addition to 881 squadron’s 24,; these aircraft were put ashore to an advance base at Casabianda aerodrome, Corsica later that day. It was later discovered that no survival or flying gear had been left in them; pilots returning to the ship after being downed had to fly back with no dinghy, parachute or flying helmets.
The invasion commenced in the early hours of August 15th, TF88 flying operations commenced at 06:10, the last aircraft landed on at 20:35. Only daylight flying operations were carried out. The assault area, centred on St Tropez, extended some 30 miles along the Cote d'Azur. It was divided into four sectors, code named (from east to west) Camel, Delta, Alpha and Sitka. The assault troops were formed of three American divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced by the French 1st Armoured Division. The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), the 45th Infantry Division landed in the centre at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropez), and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphaël). A fourth Force, the First Special Service Force, a joint U.S.-Canadian special forces unit was landed on the offshore islands Operation Sitka to neutralise the Hyères Islands, (Porquerolles, Port-Cros, Bagaud, and Levant). By the end of the first day, 60,150 troops and 6,737 vehicles had been put ashore, including the first French armoured contingent.
On ‘D’ Day PURSUER and TG 88.1 were at the flying off position at 05:30 and 8881 squadron had 24 serviceable aircraft that could be tasked with any of six mission types: Fighter Bomber (F/B), Straffing, Tactical Reconnaissance (TacR), Force Cover, Beach Cover, and Bombardment Spotting. There were 24 pilots and 24 Wildcats on board and limited reserves aircraft held ashore at Casabianda airfield in Corsica.
A pre-planned flying programme had been promulgated covering the first 5 days of operations, ‘D’ to ‘D’ + 4. The prepared flying programme for D-Day called for 36 sorties; 4 F/B, 16 Spotting & 16 Beach Cover. This however was not fixed, calls for strikes on enemy positions or additional spotting sorties could be passed to the ship throughout the day. PURSUER’s began launching at 06:00, bombardment spotting missions A1 and A2; a pair aircraft to spot for the Cruiser ORION and another pair to spot for the cruiser AJAX in Alpha sector. These were followed by 4 F/B aircraft armed with 2 x 250 lb bomb each for Attack Mission 2, a strike on coastal Defence Batteries and bombing roads with 4 Wildcats from SEARCHER’s 882 Sqn, however all failed to locate their target due to low cloud so attacked target of opportunity, bombing and strafing troop movements and setting two cars on fire, they landed back on at 07:40.
Spotting missions A4 & A5 were launched at 08:13, the spotters from A1 & A2 missions landed on at 08:59, no bombardments had been carried out due to low cloud. Spotting missions A4 & A5 did not go smoothly; on returning from spitting mission A4, Lt- Cdr Hordern, Sqn C.O. and his wingman Sub-Lt Leeson landed on the USS TULAGI at 11:00 having run low on fuel, they launched to return to PURSUER at 12:40. Sub-Lts Smith and Gibson also ran low on fuel returning from mission A5 and both ditched. They were safely rescued and landed in Corsica to retire replacement aircraft with which they re-joined the ship the following afternoon. Bombardment spotting missions continued throughout the day the last pair launching at 16:30.
Beginning at 15:13 eight Wildcats were launched to conduct Attack Mission 33, to strike against costal defence batteries, 4 aircraft for each target. All bombs hit within the target are of one battery with 2 hits and 2 near misses at the other; a tug was straffed in port at Île de Porquerolles. On completion of the strike both flights carried out Beach cover sorties, codenamed ‘Apples patrols’ covering the area from Cap Benat to St. Maxime, all had landed on by 17:02. At 18:35 six Wildcats were launched to conduct Attack Mission 35, they scored 2 direct hits on a gun battery before commencing an Apples patrol covering the area from Cap Benat to St. Maxime. Directed east to Cannes they strafed two trains and a signal box before turning west to reconnoitre as far as Toulon. The last sortie landed on at 20:40.
During the day 881 flew 36 sorties: 18 spotting and 18 F/B. Three Wildcats were written off, two ran out of fuel and ditched and one a barrier crash. Sub-Lt R. P. Gibson, RNVR in JV638 ('G') had to ditch after running out of fuel, his flight leader Sub-Lt W. T. R. Smith, RNVR in JV664 ('C') circled the area until he too ran out of fuel and ditched; neither was equipped with long-range fuel tanks. The two pilots tied their life rafts together and were rescued by an SAR plane from Corsica. On returning form Attack Mission 35 in JV691 ('X') Sub-Lt D. Symonds, RNVR entered the barrier and the aircraft overturned. The badly damaged airframe was stripped of as many parts as possible before darkness fell andf the carcass was jettisoned overboard. The fouled deck resulted in one aircraft, JV640 flown by Sub-Lt R. C. Wilkinson, RNVR was divert to land on SEARCHER, he returned to the ship at 08:30 the next day. Five aircraft were damaged by flak: JV646 (‘W’) flown by Sub-Lt J. W. Herbert, RNVR JV677 (‘P’) flown by Sub-Lt Gibson, JV696 (‘Q’) flown by Lt .T. L. M. Brander, RNVR. JV706 (‘D’) flown by Sub-Lt R. H. Difford, RNVR and JV710 ('S’) flown by Sub-Lt N. Perrett, RNZNVR.
On D+1 881 squadron had 18 serviceable aircraft and 22 pilots available. The prepared flying programme called for 34 sorties; 16 F/B, 10 Spotting (plus 4 on call) & 4 Force Cover. PURSUER’s began launching at 06:00, 4 aircraft were ranged for bombardment spotting missions; a pair aircraft taking off for mission A1 and a pair aircraft on call to launch for A2. This was repeated at 08:05 with mission A3 launching, this was followed the on call A4 at 10:08 and A2 at 10:30. Only 2 aircraft were launched for Force cover at 12:15.
Eight F/B Wildcats launched at 13:52 for mission 20, an attack on a gun emplacement followed by beach cover patrols; they scored 12 near misses with their bombs on the gun site but one direct hit one nearby railway track, targets were strafed before commencing Apples patrol covering the area from Cap Benat to St. Maxime. Another F/B strike was launched at 16:56, this time only 7 aircraft, to bomb a railway junction. They initially overshot the target, going too far east and had to re-acquire it before scoring 14 near misses straddling the line on either embankment. They landed on at 18:32.
At 17:05 Sub-Lt Smith and Sub-Lt Gibson landed on in replacement aircraft JV704 & JV715 collected from Casabianda. The last launch of the day was at 18:05, 2 aircraft for spotting mission A13 and 2 more ranged on call for A14. On reaching the target area the ship informed the spotting aircraft that they had no targets and no shoot was carried out. The last aircraft landed on at 19:44.
During the day 881 flew 27 sorties: 10 Spotter 15 F/B and 2 Force cover. JV681 (‘F’) flown by Sub-Lt D. L. W. Freason, RNVR was damaged by flak.
On D+2 881 squadron had 20 serviceable aircraft and 24 pilots available. The prepared flying programme was the same as for D+1, 34 sorties; 16 F/B, 10 spotting (plus 4 on call) & 4 Force Cover. Flying commenced at 09:26 when 4 F/B aircraft were launched for an attack on a Fort on port Cros Island; all bombs fell in the target and buildings were strafed but the result could not be assessed due to heavy smoke. Only three aircraft carried out he strike; JV665 flown by Sub-Lt Herbert. RNVR made a forced landing on STALKER at 10:40 after his radios went unserviceable. After making repairs he launched at 12:45 to re-join PURSUER.
At 11:00 4 aircraft launched for an armed reconnaissance of the roads between Brignoles- Mirabeau - Cadenet - Aix- Cap Sicié; they bombed a bridge, a railway junction and station. They landed on at 13:04 having observed no movement on the roads, but confirmed that all bridges crossing the Durance River between Mirabeau and Cadanet were down. JV678 (‘T’) flown by Sub-Lt D. Symens, RNVR suffered minor flak damage; .on reaching the ship Sub-Lt W. Park, RNVR in JV640 (‘O’) had to make a no flaps landing, his aircraft had been damaged by friendly fire from JV703 (‘S’) flown by Petty Officer Brittain.
During the day 881 flew 16 sorties: 4 F/B, 4 Armed Recon, 8 Beach Patrol. 6 aircraft were damaged by flak.
On D+3 881 squadron had 18 serviceable aircraft and 24 pilots available. The prepared flying programme was the same as for D+1. Flying commenced at 09:21 when 7 aircraft launched for an armed reconnaissance of the roads between Brignoles- Mirabeau - Cadenet - Aix- Cap Sicié; evidence seen that all river bridges still down and no signs of rebuilding, some light motor transport movements seen, bombed a rail yard and junction.
Two aircraft launched for force cover at 12:03, followed at 14:03 by a second armed recon by 4 aircraft re-covering the roads between Brignoles- Mirabeau - Cadenet - Aix- Cap Sicié; rail yard, rolling stock and sheds bombed. This flight landed on at 16:30, one aircraft, JV698 flown by Sub-Lt Wilkinson, hit the barrier causing minor damage. Sub-Lt Herbert’s aircraft JV679 land on with flak damage. The final mission of the day was 8 aircraft for beach cover, launching at 17:14 and the last aircraft had landed on by 19:11.
During the day 881 flew 21 sorties: 11 Armed Recon, 8 Beach Patrol and 2 Force Cover.
On D+4 881 squadron had 19 serviceable aircraft and 24 pilots available. The prepared flying programme was the same as for D+1. The squadron was to have a busy flying programme; the first launch of the day was an early beach patrol, 8 aircraft taking off at 07:15, they returned at 09:00 after an uneventful mission.
The second mission of the day was an armed recon by 4 aircraft launched at 10:10 to cover the roads between Aries - Tarascon – Cavailion – Carpentras – Orange - Avignon, in the Rhone Valley, further west than their previous recon area. They reported sighting 6 merchant vessel at Port-de-Bouc before investigating the airfields at Plan de Dieu and Orange-Caritat, they bombed and strafed hangars and dispersed aircraft at the later. During this sweep Sub-Lt R. Banks, RNVR in JV669 radioed that he had been hit by flak and was ditching in the river Rhone 4 miles north of Avignon. He was reduced and later re-joined the ship. Sub-Lt Herbert in JV679 was hit by flak and, unable to jettison his bomb, landed on the emergency strip ashore at St. Tropez at 12:45; he took-off to re-join the ship at 14:10. A third aircraft from this mission, JV698, flown by Petty Officer Airman Bishell sustained severe flak damage and made a forced landing on STALKER at 11:50.
A second armed recon of 4 aircraft launched at 14:18, again to sweep up the Rhone valley covering the roads from Tarascan – Avignon – Carpentras – - Cavailion. Attacks were made on a railway junction and rolling stock, and several motor vehicles of various sizes. Returning to the ship at 16:06 Sub-Lt R. A. Wiltshire, RNVR in JV646 suffered a barrier crash.
At 15:09 6 aircraft were launched, three flights of 2, for spotting duties followed by 4 aircraft for Force cover at 16:24. The last mission of the day was another armed recon which took off at 17:43, only 3 aircraft took off to rendezvous with a flight of 4 F/B Hellcats from EMPEROR to attack a concentration of 16 tanks reported in a wooded area. They failed to find the tanks, but attacked Arles Railway yard instead, one Hellcat pilot scored a direct hit on a locomotive with a 500 lb. bomb and two fires were started. The wildcats bombed and strafed the railyard and trucks. During this mission Sub-Lt Park in JV678 (‘T’) force landed on TULAGI with a fuel leak. After refuelling and temporary repairs he took off to land on STALKER. During one of her spells as Spare Deck she received 2 Wildcat Vs from SEARCHER’s 882 Sqn at 20:15, these remained on-board as the fleet secured from flying operations for the night.
During the day 881 flew 29 sorties: 11 Armed Recon, 8 Beach Patrol, 6 spotting and 4 Force Cover. 1 Wildcat was lost to enemy action, 1 aircraft was damaged in a barrier crash, and 2 damaged aircraft had landed on other carriers.
The two Task Groups of Force 88 had operated together for the first five days of the operation, but separated late on the 19th; ATTACKER, EMPEROR, PURSUER, and SEARCHER withdrew to Maddalena, Sardinia for a 24 hours replenishment and rest period while KHEDIVE transferred to TG 88.2 to bolster that force which remained off the French coast providing air cover.
August 1944 Wildcat aircraft on the deck of PURSUER: immediately astern are ATTACKER, KHEDIVE and TG 88.1 flagship, the cruiser ROYALIST. © IWM A25184
D+5, rest day: TG88.1 arrived at Maddalena at 08:00 on August 20th and the carriers anchored in Arcachon Bay. The pilots had a day’s rest but most of the ship's company were busy on maintenance work, embarking bombs, ammunition, petrol, stores, etc. The Force sailed at 18:00 to return to the operational area.
On D+6 TG88.1 carriers arrived t at the flying off point south of Marseilles at 06:00 on the 21st, 881 squadron had 16 serviceable aircraft and 22 pilots available; two aircraft and their pilots were on board carriers operating with TG88.2.
The programmed flying schedule had ended on D+5 so the carriers were now supplying sorties on request from the Bombardment co-ordinators and Amy Co-operation teams. The first launch was at 07:42, a pair of aircraft for spotting duty over alpha sector; low cloud however meant the shoot was cancelled. At 08:04 four F/B aircraft were launched to attack transport, rtroop and railway concentrations in the area Montpelier – Nimes – Remoulins – Moussac - Montpelier – Tarascon. They sighted 100 plus motor vehicles and scored hits with 4 bombs before strafing the column setting fire to several petrol wagons, resulting in 40 vehicles destroyed. Other groups of vehicles were sighted but not attacked. The last aircraft from the flight landed on at 10:27.
A second spotting mission was launched at 09:44 for Alpha sector but again no shoot took place. The two Wildcats belonging to 882 Sqn were launched at 09:45 to return to SEARCHER. Four aircraft launched at 12:13 for a second F/B mission to attack concentrations of motor transport in land. They bombed and strafed two large columns of vehicles (50 plus) near Uzes damaging many and leaving other burning, A locomotive and 15 rail trucks were strafed scoring many hits. Sub-Lt N. Perrett RNZNVR in JV646 had make a forced landing on ATTACKER at 12:35 after experiencing engine problems on nearing the coast, he re-joined PURSUER at 20:19. Of the three pilots that continued on with the mission Petty Officer Airman R. Brittain flying in JV668 ('Y') failed to return, he was killed in unknown circumstances. The reaming two aircraft landed on at 14:20 and 15:03.
A third pair were launched at 12:44 for a successful shoot against a gun emplacement in Stika Sector. Two further spotting missions were launched at 18:20, one pair to spot for a bombardment against a group of 6 guns in pits at a fort near Toulon, and the other pair to spot for a shoot against inland targets by RAMILLIES. The last aircraft landed on at 20:30 and flying for the day ended.
During the day 881 flew 18 sorties: 8 F/B, 10 spotting. 1 Wildcat and its pilot was lost, possibly to flak damage. 8 aircraft landed on with various degrees of flak damage; JV640 (‘Q’), JV665 (‘U’), JV694 (‘M’) and JV704 (‘C’) were badly damaged. While operating as the duty Spare Deck in the early afternoon PURSUER received 3 Seafires from ATTACKER’s 879 Sqn. This caused some problems for the flight deck parties as the ship had no equipment for folding the wings of a Seafire; these machines could not be taken into the hangar and had to be move around the deck as necessary before ATTACKER could receive them. They departed at 16:24.
On completion of the day’s flying TG88.2 withdrew and proceeded overnight to Maddalena, Sardinia for their 24 hours replenishment and rest period.
On D+7 881 squadron had 11 serviceable aircraft and 20 pilots available. The flying off position was moved to the western side of the Gulf of Lyons in response to information that a German division was believed to be moving across from the Biscay coast. The division, however, moved north instead of east, and targets were hard to find in the new operational area west of the Rhone.
KHEDIVE re-joined TG 88.1 at 08:00; she had detached from TG 88.2 at 22:00 on D +5 and proceeded to Maddalena escorted by TYRIAN. Before detaching Sub-Lt Park in Wildcat JV678 (‘T’) transferred from STALKER and now landed back on board PURSUER at 10:04. Petty Officer Airman Bishell was also on board KHEDIVE on her return, he had been transferred from STALKER on the USS HENDERSON, his aircraft was not recovered.
The first launch of the day was not until 14:06 when 7 aircraft took off on a bombing mission to attack railway tracks at Narbonne – Castlenaudary containing element of the 11th Panzer Division. On arrival over the target no trucks carrying Tanks could be found, the railyard hit by 12 bombs and, already damaged, trucks strafed.
A second F/B mission of 8 aircraft was launched at 16:28 with the primary target being as group camouflaged vehicles. No sign of the vehicles on reaching the co-ordinates so attacked the railway station at Marcorignan were they spotted 30 goods trucks, 2 locomotives and 3 cars carrying rails. They bombed and strafed the area damaging the two locomotives and left many trucks on fire. The last aircraft landed on at 18:06 and flying for the day ended.
During the day 881 flew 15 sorties, all F/B. One aircraft, JV682 was damaged by flak but repaired overnight.
On D+8 the force returned to the operating position south of Marseilles overnight; 881 squadron had 15 serviceable aircraft and 22 pilots available. PURSUER’s flying commenced at 07:45 with two aircraft launched for a spotting mission. The entire days flying programme was to be Bombardment spotting sorties, 18 in total, this tasking was a punishing one for the squadron as only 10 pilots were trading for these missions and most would have to fly 2 sorties each.
The first mission A1 was to spot for targets in Delta sector, time on task was limited as the ship reported it would not be ready to begin until 09:30, three hits were confirmed on taget K.20 after 2 ranging salvos and 5 salvos fire for effect. The pair landed back on board at 10:30. The second spotting pair launched at 08:55 for targets in Alpha sector, the fall of shot was poor and only two salvos hit the target area. The pair landed on at 10:57.
At 09:47 two pairs of aircraft were launched for missions A3 and A5. Mission A3 was aonother sortie over Delta sector engaging target K.20 with limited success. The pair for A5 had no tareegts relayed to them so resorted to making a recon of the area between Toulon and Marseilles; one pilot, Petty Officer Brown in JV681 had to land ashore at the emergency strip at St. Tropez at 11:15, rtaking off at 15:45 to re-join the ship, landing on at 16:47.
The pair for mission A4 launched at 19:30 for Alpha sector but again no targets were engaged and they landed on at 12:45. There was now a short break in the flying programme, the next pair did not launch until 13:02 for A9 another unsatisfactory shoot in Delta sector. Mission A11 launched at 14:14 for Alpha sector, this time a firm target, a fort, was engaged and badly damaged by several salvos. The next mission, A10 was salsa spotting in Delta sector, the target was a clifftop fort with a concealed gun emplacement, target K.23, this received several direct hits but failed to put the guns completely out of action. The final mission, A12 also went to Delta sector, launching at 15:08 to spot for a shoot against target K.22 but with poor results. The last aircraft landed on at 17:36 and flying ended.
During the final day of operations 881 flew 18 sorties, all bombardment spotting. Flying operation for TG88.1 ended at 19:45 and the Force left the operational area at 21:00 and set course for Magdalena. TG88.2 arrived back on station at 06:30 on August 24th D+9 to resume operations.
PURSUER’s squadron had flown a total of 365.35 flying hours completing 180 sorties over eight days of operational flying; 62 Spotting, 86 Fighter Bomber, 8 Force cover, 24 Beach Cover. 881 squadron began operations with 24 Wildcats, at the end of operations on August 23rd they had 17 serviceable machines, and two replacements had been received. Four aircraft and one pilot were lost. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but 46,125 0.5in rounds and 19 tons and 440 lbs of bombs were expended against ground targets. While acting as a Spare Deck she handled 9 Seafires, 4 Hellcats, 2 Wildcat V, 1 walrus.
TG88.1 anchored in Arcachon Bay, Magdalena at 1:130 on the 24th. The ships of TG 88.1 were released from Dragoon operations ended at dusk on Sunday August 27th. Sub-Lt R. Banks arrived back on board on this date, having made his way to Magdalena by various means, finally landing in the harbour in a Walrus next to the ship. HUNTER and STALKER arrived at Maddalena at 10:45 that morning and anchored in Arsachona Bay at about 11:30. PURSUER and elements of TG88.1 left Maddalena later that day to proceed to Alexandria.
HMS PURSUER arrived at Alexandria on September 1st. A detachment of 6 Wildcats was put ashore to RNAS Dekheila on September 3rd, re-embarking on the 10th.
While at Alexandria the seven carriers of Rear Admiral Troubridge’s Escort Carrier Squadron were reallocated for operations in the Aegean, and a new force, Force 120, was constituted on September 2nd. This initially comprised HM Ships ROYALIST (FOEC) ATTACKER, HUNTER, EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, PURSUER, SEARCHER, STALKER, TROUBRIDGE (Capt. (D) 24), TYRIAN, TEAZER, TERMAGANT, TERPSICHORE, TUMULT, TUSCAN, TENACIOUS, Greek destroyer HHelMS NAVARINON, and Polish destroyer ORP GARLAND. They were joined on the 24th by the cruisers ORION, AJAX, BLACK PRINCE, ARGONAUT, AURORA, and COLOMBO from Naples.
Elements of Force 120 were to operate in the Aegean conducting Operation OUTING, this was to be carried out in five phases; phase 1 was began only a week after the carriers arrived back at Alexandria, the final phase ended at the end of November. PURSUER took part in phases 1 .
Force 120 and the Cruisers were to split into two groups, the carriers HUNTER, KHEDIVE, PURSUER, and SEARCHER sailing on September 9th with Force A, their task was to hamper and delay German troop movements in the Dodecanese Islands, (Leros, Kos, Samos, Rhodes and Levitha). Force A sailed from Alexandria on the 9th of September to operate off the south coast of Crete, the carriers to carry out reconnaissance and strikes by day, also to provide CAP for the force while the Cruisers and Destroyers of the force struck at targets by night. The first night targets presented on the 12th/13th when ROYALIST and three destroyers attacked a small convoy on the Candia-Santorin route; the next night drew blank, but on the night of the 14th/15th two German KT ships were destroyed by ROYALIST and the Destroyer TEASER.
PURSUER had an uneventful time on passage to the planned operating area, one aircraft, JV676 ('UK') flown by Sub-Lt N Perrett, RNZNVR had to make an emergency landing on the 13th. On the 15th the force was joined by ATTACKE in preparation for the first air operations on the 16th. For the first three days of operations the Seafires from HUNTER and KHEDIVE, and the Wildcats from PURSUER and SEARCHER provided combat air patrols during the daylight hours for the Command Cruiser ROYALIST and her destroyers, and also for a minesweeping force clearing a path for the occupation of Kithira Island, between the western end of Crete and the Peloponnese.
The first phase of the operation was the neutralising of the outer air defence ring formed by the Islands of Crete-Scarpanto-Rhodes. On the 16th Wildcat fighter-bombers from PURSUER and SEARCHER attacked vehicles on the roads of Crete and sank four caiques and damaged a further six with bombs. Three of 881 squadrons Wildcats were damaged by flak, JV677 ('UP') Sub-Lt Gibson, JV696 ('UQ') Sub-Lt Brander, and JV706 (‘UD') Sub-Lt Frearson, but returned safely They also strafed other transport ashore and spotted for shore bombardment.
Armed reconnaissance sorties were flown over the islands of Milos and Thia, and on the 19th the force carried out dive-bombing of targets on Rhodes; targets included
four airfields, all vessels in its harbours and coastal waters, and all
transport on its roads. 68 motor vehicles and two Ju.52 aircraft were
destroyed. Two Depot ships and five calques were sunk and a Radio Station and 1,000 ton merchant ship
were damaged. Operation OUTING I was completed on the 20th and PURSUER and other carriers of the force returned to Alexandria for replenishment. PURSUER's Wildcats had flown 136 sorties.
PURSUER and SEARCHER sailed from Alexandria and preceded, unescorted to Gibraltar on October 1st, from there they joined the convoy MKS.63 from Gibraltar on the 8th. This convoy rendezvoused with the north-bound SL.172 to form the combined convoy SL.172 /MKS.63 bound for Liverpool. On reaching the cover of the Western Approaches the two carriers detached and preceded to the Clyde here they arrived on the 12th; 881 squadron was flown off to RAF Long Kesh on route.
On October 27th PURSUER sailed for Scapa Flow, re-embarking her squadron on leaving the Clyde. She arrived at Scapa at 18:00 on the 28th to re-join the Home Fleet, 881 squadron flew ashore to RNAS Grimsetter on October 30th. PURSUER re-embarked her squadron on November 5th for flying training and to prepare to undertake her next operation, Operation STEAK.
Operation STEAK had two Objectives, first to give fighter cover for operation COUNTERBLAST on the night of 12th/13th conducted by HM Ships KENT, BELLONA, MYNGS, VERULAM, ZAMBESI, and HMCS ALGONQUIN to attack enemy shipping off the south-west coast of Norway, where the absence of fjords and off shore islands forced shipping out into the open. On completion of this phase an attack by fighter aircraft on shipping in the Vingvaagen anchorage and an anti-shipping sweep off the Leads to westward were carried out. The force, HM Ships EURYALUS, PURSUER, CAESAR (Captain (D) 6th Destroyer Flotilla), NUBIAN, VENUS, ZEPHYR sailed on November 9th but were forced to return to Scapa due to bad weather; they sailed again on the 12th to rendezvous with the COUNTERBLAST force. PURSUER’s aircraft sunk one trawler, another was set on fire. And a Radar Station was bombed. The force returned to Scapa on the 16th. There was one deck landing incident on the 14th, JV677 ('UP'), flown by Lt L. Calvert, RNVR crashed on deck when the undercarriage collapsed after failing to completely drop down.
Operation HANDFAST was conducted by a small force, Force 3, on the 19th/20th November. HM Ships DIADEM, PREMIER, PURSUER, ZEALOUS, ONSLAUGHT, SCORPION, SCOURGE sailed for an aerial minelaying operation in Salhusstrommen near Haugesund, Norway by PREMIER’s 856 Squadron's Avengers with fighter protection provided by the Wildcats of PURSUER's 881 Squadron. For the mine laying operation 856 flew 9 Avengers and her 4 Wildcats, these were joined by 8 Wildcats from 881 providing High cover and a further 8 for low level cover. The operation was executed on the 20th and the aircraft encountered light, inaccurate flak which caused light damage to one Avenger which was unable to drop it's mine. Of the 8 other mines laid in Kara Sound 7 were placed correctly. All aircraft returned to their carriers safely and the force returned to Scapa Flow departing the area the same evening. PURSUER was not in port long, she was back at sea on the 22nd for another operation off the Norwegian coast.
Operation PROVIDENT called for air attacks against coastal convoys between Mosjoen and Rorvik off the Norwegian coast. There were two groups of ships for this operation, Force 7 comprised of IMPLACABLE (Commander in Chief, Home Fleet), DIDO, MYNGS (Captain (D) 23rd Destroyer Flotilla) SCORPION, SCOURGE, SIOUX, ZEPHYR, and ALGONQUIN. Force 8 comprised of DEVONSHIRE, PREMIER, PURSUER, SAUMAREZ (Captain (D) 26th Destroyer Flotilla), VOLAGE, ZEALOUS, VENUS, and VIGILANT.
The force ran into heavy weather by the 24th which hampered operations; severe gales brought winds of 60+ knots over the flight deck and all aircraft on the CVEs had to be securely lashed down in the hanger. Bothe PREMIER and PURSUER suffered damage to their flight decks as the heavy seas and winds tore away planking and bent steel support struts; unable to operate aircraft both carriers, in company with DEVONSHIRE with an escort of five destroyers, returned to Scapa Flow, arriving there on the evening of the 25th. IMPLACABLE and her escorts remained at sea and did manage to engage enemy shipping.
On arrival back at Scapa 881 squadron were flown ashore to RNAS Grimsetter on November 27th. PURSUER sailed at 08:00 the following day for the Clyde, escorted by ZODIAC and CARRON, arriving on the 29th. Leave was granted.
PURSUER was scheduled to undergo a refit at Norfolk US Navy Dock Yard in December and she sailed in Convoy UC.48B which departed Liverpool on December 12th 1944. The crossing was a rough one, the already battered ship took even more damage before detaching from the convoy on December 23rd and proceeded to Norfolk where she arrived 18:30 on Christmas Day 1944. She was to undergo repairs and modification while at Norfolk, her accelerator and flight deck were repaired and she spent some time in dry dock. At 10:05 on January 31st 1945 she sailed from Norfolk for a post refit shake-down in the Chesapeake Bay area – after which she embarked ferry load of Corsair aircraft for transport to the UK.
Once her loading was complete PURSUER sailed from Norfolk at 17:39 on February 4th, escorted by the USS SIMPSON, for New York to join convoy CU.57. She arrived off New York at 16:20 on the 5th and joined with the convoy and escort force TG 61.5 for the Atlantic crossing. On the 15th PURSUER detached at 22:25 and proceeded to Belfast where her ferry load was disembarked to RNAS Belfast the following day. She arrived on the Clyde on February 17th for voyage repairs.
The ship next made a round trip voyage to Scapa Flow in mid-March to embarked 881 squadron from
RNAS Hatston on the 23rd.
It is presumed that the squadron left its Wildcats behind at RNAS Hatston. There is no record of flying on route to South Africa, nor of any Wildcat aircraft being withdrawn at RNARY Wingfield. Some commentators list this as being 898 squadron equipped with Hellcats, however this squadron was already in Cape Town at this time. It is possible that PURSUER ferried a load of Hellcats for delivery to RNAMY Wingfield and this may have caused some confusion.. On returning to the Clyde on the 24th Captain T. L. Bratt, DSC assumed command of the ship.
On March 31st she sailed from the Clyde in company with the new Aircraft Maintenance carrier PIONEER for Gibraltar with convoy KMF.42 which arrived there on April 7th. She sailed from Gibraltar on April 9th for Durban via Freetown and Cape Town; there were no convoys for Freetown on this date so it is assumed she travelled independently with her escorts.
On arrival at Cape Town 881 squadron disembarked to RNAS Wingfield April 26th, the squadron was to re-equip with 30 Hellcat IIs at the end of the month. On arrival at Durban PURSUER commenced her refit on May 3rd. She was ready for sea again at the start of July when she carried out post refit sea trials. She sailed for Colombo on July 7th, arriving there on the 25th
HMS PURSUER on leaving Durban after her refit. She now sports the Admiralty Light Pattern camouflage scheme. Photo: David Dixon
Upon her arrival at Ceylon HMS PURSUER was allocated No. 898 Hellcat squadron, their 24 aircraft flew out from RNAS Katukurunda to join her on July 29th while she was on passage to Trincomalee. The squadron disembarked to RNAS Trincomalee on August 1st when PURSUER joined the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron. The ship was allocated to participate in the upcoming Operation ZIPPER, the allied invasion of Malaya, and the squadron re-embarked on the 6th to conduct flying training and exercise with the ship. Petty Officer Pilot A.H. Key was killed on August 9th, when his arrestor hook bounced off the rounddown and the aircraft fell over the side into the sea. Sub Lt G. K. Taylor RNZNVR in JX709 also had a bouncing arrestor hook on the 16th; it missed No.4 wire but then engaged No.9 wire, and continued into the barrier where its engine was stopped.
July1945 Hellcat JX698 of 898 squadron on PURSUER:'s forward lift, somewhere off Ceylon. Photo: David Dixon
After the Japanese surrender on August 15th operation ZIPPER was put on hold and PURSUER was released from the invasion force. On August 18th the ship was reassigned for duty as a Communications Ship during landings in Port Swettenham, part of a modified version of Operation ZIPPER, carried out as planned and rehearsed, but the covering air and sea bombardment had been cancelled. No longer required for the operation
898 squadron was flown ashore to
RNAS Puttalam on the 18th. PURSUER embarked parties of Royal Marines as well as medical and air personnel for shore duties.
PURSUER sailed from Trincomalee on September 5th and joined assault convoy JME1F on the 6th, later transferring to JME1S. At 0500 hours on the 8th NELSON in company with the light cruisers CEYLON and NIGERIA, escorted by destroyers NUBIAN, PALADIN and RELENTLESS sailed from George Town to cover the ZIPPER assault convoys on route to their assembly point off Port Swettenham: they were to be joined by the escort carriers EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE, and STALKER to provide air cover for the landings. The ZIPPER assault convoys converged on the Malayan coast off Port Swettenham and once assembled at first light on September 9th the ships of the assault convoys formed into two assault groups off Morib where the landings were to take place. PURSUER arrived off the beach head on September 9th and a Medical party was sent to the Store ship WING SANG which reported a case of suspected Bubonic Plague, this later proved to be a glandular infection. After the initial landing PURSUER sailed up to Port Swettenham on the 10th where Captain T. L. Bratt DSC went ashore with 200 marines and accepted the formal surrender of the local garrison.
PURSUER remained at Port Swettenham until she was released from ZIPPER operations and arrived back at Trincomalee on October 6th.
PURSUER was to spend the next six weeks on local trooping voyages before being released for return to the UK. The personnel of 898 squadron boarded the ship as passengers on November 20th for passage home to the UK, their aircraft remained at RNAS Katukurunda. HMS PURSUER left Colombo on November 20th and arrived on the Clyde on December 12th; 898 squadron officially disbanded on this date.
Once all passengers and stores were unloaded PURSUER was stood down from active service in preparation for her return to the US Navy on completion of de-storing and equipment removal. Most of her crew were drafted to RN Barracks leaving only a steaming crew left aboard to handle the ship on her final Atlantic crossing. She next sailed to Portsmouth for further equipment removal.
PURSUER sailed from the UK for the last time on January 16th 1946 and set a course for Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia. On her arrival at Norfolk she was decommissioned and CVE-17 was returned to US Navy custody on February 12th. She was stricken from the US Navy list on March 28th 1946 and put up for disposal. She was sold on May 14th 1946 to the Patapsco Steel Scrap Co., Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for breaking.
 PURSUER is recorded in the log of the USS TEXAS as not operational, EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, and SEARCHER had operational aircraft embarked. It is assumed that PURSUER had either embarked s load of spare aircraft sufficient to make flying operations impossible or her squadron was not fully operational.
 It is presumed that the squadron left its Wildcats behind at RNAS Hatston. There is no record of flying on route to South Africa, nor of any Wildcat aircraft being withdrawn at RNARY Wingfieldd. Some commentators list this as being 898 squadron equipped with Hellcats, however this squadron was already in Cape Town at this time. It is possible that PURSUER ferried a load of Hellcats for delivery to RNAMY Wingfield and this may have caused some confusion.
Content revised: 24 July 2022
Sources used in compiling this account:
Click here for a list of Primary sources
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
US Naval Station, Seattle, Washington
US Naval Station, Manchester, Washington
Puget Sound Navy Yard War Diaries
US Thirteenth Naval District War Diaries
Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries
Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries
Rear Admiral Escort Carriers Report of proceedings - Operation Dragoon
Topic: A History of H.M.S. PURSUER
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