A history of 1830 Naval Air Squadron


Formation and work-up

The personnel for No.1830 Squadron assembled at Lee-on-Solent on 1 April 1943 and later embarked for passage to the USA. The squadron was disembarked to the US Naval Air Station Quonset Point, Rhode island, on May 7th and officially formed on June 1st 1943 as a single seater fighter squadron under the command of Lt. Cdr D. B. M. Fiddes DSO RN. Initial equipment was 10 Corsair Is.

The Chance-Vought F4U-1 Corsair Mk,I

After familiarisation with the aircraft and equipment the squadron began training in earnest to prepare for active service. Flying training included navigation exercises, low flying, formation flying and combat tactics, Aerodrome Dummy Deck Landing (ADDL) training and night flying. Darning this familiarisation period one Corsair was lost on May 28th; Sub-Lt D. F. Hadman, RNVR was making his approaching to land over Narragansett Bay in Corsair JT111 ('7H') when its fuel pump failed and he ditched short of the runway, he was unhurt and the aircraft (only delivered 10 days earlier) was savaged by the US Navy.

The squadron was to lose three pilots in the first month of training; on June 3rd Lt. J. E. Gaunt RCNVR was killed while performing circuits & bumps the prop of his aircraft JT116 ('7H') hit the runway on take-off, it crashed and caught fire. Sub-Lt A. M. L. Harris, RNVR was killed on the 14th, also doing circuits & bumps, his aircraft JT110 spun into a wood at Old Stone church cemetery Adamsviile, Rhode Island and burnt out. On the same day a major crash occurred when Sub-Lt D. H. Morgan, RNVR flying in JT117 ('7BL') hit an obstruction off the runway on take-off and crashed into a bomb bunker and exploded; the pilot later died from his injuries and the crash crew and 21 other personnel were injured in the resulting fire.

During August Corsair Mk. II aircraft were issued replacing the original equipment before the squadron moved to US Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine on September 21st to continue their training. The squadron was to operate out of USNAAF Sanford, Maine, a satellite airfield of USNAS Brunswick located 68 miles to the south.

U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Facility Sandford,, Maine. Image United States. Navy. Naval District. (March 21, 1943). Airport at Sandford, ME [Photograph]. Retrieved from

Passage to the UK

On completion of working up the squadron flew to USNAS Norfolk on October 9th. Once all the squadron machines had arrived the R.N. Air Section present on the station prepared them for embarking in the Escort Carrier HMS SLINGER.

SLINGER and her sister carrier TRUMPETER had arrived at Norfolk Navy Yard on October 6th to embark ferry loads of US aircraft for delivery to the UK. SLINGER began embarking a ferry load of 54 airframes including the 10 Corsair IIs of No. 1830 Squadron which were loaded on the 9th. On completion of loading SLINGER departed Norfolk for New York arriving on the 17th. SLINGER and TRUMPETER (carrying 1831 & 1833 Corsair squadrons) sailed with convoy UT.4 from New York on the October 21st. On nearing Ireland on October 30th the two carriers detached from the convoy and proceeded to Belfast where they unloaded their squadrons to Royal Naval Aircraft Yard Belfast on November 1st.


No. 15 Naval Fighter Wing and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS

On November 3rd 1830, 1831, and 1833 squadron moved to RNAS Stretton where they formed the new 15th Naval Fighter Wing (15 Wing) on the 8th for service in the Fleet Carrier HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, Lt. Cdr J. W. Sleigh DSC RN as Wing Commander. At the beginning of December it was decided to reduce the Wing to two squadrons and 1831 was to disband, its equipment and aircrews being split up between Nos. 1830 and 1833 Squadrons increasing their strength to 14 aircraft each. 1831 was officially disbanded at Stretton on December 10th. Lt. Cdr (A) R. J. Cork DSO DSC RN was appointed as Wing Commander on December 2nd.

1830 flew out to join ILLUSTRIOUS on December 9th, 1833 moved to RNAS Machrihanish the day before. It is unclear whether or when the squadron pilots undertook any deck landing training (DLT), normally this was carried out while in the U.S. on the training carrier USS CHARGER but there is no mention of this being done. The squadron joining the ship resulted in four crashes and one fatality; Lt. A. W. Sutton, RCNVR put JT210 into the barrier and hit the Island landing on the 9th, Sub-Lt B. McLaren, RNVR in JT204 struck the S4 pom-pom with its wing, entered the barrier and hit the Island landing on the 10th. There were two more incidents on the 22nd; Sub-Lt R. Fullarton, RNVR made a fast landing, missed all the wires and hit the barrier. The squadron commanding officer, Lt. Cdr D. B. M. Fiddes DSO was not so fortunate, flying in JT237 he missed all the arrester wires but failed to open the throttle enough to go around again, the port wingtip clipped the deck and the aircraft avoided hitting the island and went over the side and into the sea. He was not recovered. Lt. Cdr (A) A.M. Tritton DSC, RNVR was appointed as the new commanding officer on December 18th.

The remaining 10 aircraft flew ashore to RNAS Machrihanish on the 20th, re-embarking on the 23rd after receiving replacement airframes and aircrew. 1833 squadron had embarked on the 22nd. They joined the squadrons of the 21st Naval Torpedo Bomber Reconnaissance Wing (21 TBR Wing), 810 Sqn - 12 Barracuda Mk. II and 847 Sqn - 9 Barracuda Mk. II; they had been on board since November 28th.

December 9th 1943: Corsair JT210 ('K') of 1830 Sqn flown by Lt. A. W. Sutton, RCNVR after being arrested by the crash barrier the aircraft careered into the Island nearly tearing the engine from its mountings landing on ILLUSTRIOUS. A 21 TBR Wing Barracuda is parked forward. © © IWM A 21000

Allocated for operations with the Eastern Fleet

ILLUSTRIOUS (Flag, Rear Admiral, Aircraft Carriers, Eastern Fleet (Rear Admiral C. Moody),) in company with the Aircraft maintenance Carrier UNICORN, sailed from the Clyde on December 29th 1943 to join the Eastern Fleet screened by destroyers TERMAGANT, TENACIOUS, and KEMPENFELT. They were joined by the Battleships VALIANT, QUEEN ELIZABETH, and Battlecruiser RENOWN the next day for passage to Port Said. On the 11th, approaching Alexandria Sub-Lt D. B. Monteith, RNVR was killed when the starboard wing of is aircraft, JT206 folded just after take-off and sank.

ILLUSTRIOUS, UNICORN, 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. The main body of the force arrived at Colombo on the 27th, ILLUSTRIOUS continued on to Trincomalee arriving there on January 28th the Corsairs of 15 Wing flew ashore to R.N. Air Section China Bay when ILLUSTRIOUS arrived at Trincomalee.

15 Wing flew out to the ship on February 9th for a day’s flying training before embarking on the 10th When ILLUSTRIOUS, in company with the battlecruiser RENOWN, light cruisers EMERALD and TROMP, and seven destroyers sailed at 17:00. This force was to conduct exercises over the next three days; at 17:00 on the 14th ILLUSTRIOUS launched her Barracudas for a simulated Aerial Torpedo attack on the cruisers, 15 Wing aircraft flew both as escort for the Barracudas and as interceptors to ward of the attacking force. The evolution was successfully carried out and the force entered harbour at Trincomalee at 22:00, 15 Wing disembarking to R.N. Air Section China Bay.

Operation SLEUTH 15 Wing re-embarked when ILLUSTRIOUS next put to sea on February 22nd with the Cruiser GAMBIA and destroyers ROTHERHAM and TJERK HIDDES to conduct operation SLEUTH, to locate and destroy suspected German blockade runners in the area to the south-west of the Cocos Islands.

Operation INITIAL No enemy ships were encountered and on March 8th ILLUSTRIOUS joined other units of the Eastern Fleet for Operation INITIAL, a sweep into the Bay of Bengal to show force in that area and also to provide training for the Fleet. The ships sailed in two groups; the Battleships RENOWN (flag VA Eastern Fleet) and VALIANT, Cruisers CEYLON, and EMERALD, screened by Destroyers ROTHERHAM (Captain (D) 11th Destroyer Flotilla), RELENTLESS, NORMAN, NAPIER, NEPAL, followed by ILLUSTRIOUS (RA, Aircraft Carriers Eastern Fleet), Destroyers NIZAM, QUICKMATCH, and QUALITY . On sailing ILLUSTRIOUS adjusted her aircraft complement, 847 Squadron (9 Barracuda) were disembarked to R.N. Air Section China Bay, making her complement a total of 12 Barracudas and 27 Corsairs.

There were four flying incidents on the 10th, three involving 15 Wing; Barracuda DT858 ('2H') of 810 Sqn failed to pull out of a dive during a torpedo attack, Sub-Lt G. G. Scott, RNVR, Sub-Lt J.G. Beckett, RNVR & Leading Airman N. H. Absalon were all killed. Lieutenant. N. S. Hanson, RNVR (1833 Sqn) suffered Hydraulic failure in JT234 ('6S') and made a successful emergency landing on the ship. Sub-Lt L. H. E. Retaliick, RNVR (1830 Sqn) in JT222 made a heavy landing, caught a wire but burst both tyres then both wheels broke and the prop hit the deck. JT216 ('6Q'), flown by an unidentified 1833 Sqn pilot came in fast and off the centre-line, it lost its port wheel which was knocked off when it struck a gun turret, it then passed through both barriers before bursting into flames.

March 11th there were two more deck crashes, one resulting in multiple casualties; Sub-Lt D. F. Hadman, RNVR (1830 Sqn) wrote off JT215 ('P') after he bounced off the lift, missed all the arrester wires and entered the barrier. During night exercises Sub-Lt A. Vickers, RNVR (1833 Sqn) was killed when his aircraft JT232 crashed into the port barrier stanchion landing on and burst into flames; this soon developed into a serious petrol fire. Sub-Lt G. M. Hardy, RNVR died of burns inflicted trying to remove the pilot from the cockpit and Sick Berth Attendant I. T. Griffiths was killed when part of the aircraft exploded as he climbed onto the wreck. The fire took an hour to extinguish and it destroyed the P.2 pom pom mount; five aircraft that were in the air at the time were diverted to land ashore at Madras. On returning to Trincomalee on March 12th, 15 Wing again disembarked to R.N. Air Section China Bay.

Operation DIPLOMAT HMS ILLUSTRIOUS re-embarked her squadrons on March 21st when she sailed in company with the Battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH and VALIANT, Battlecruiser RENOWN, Cruisers LONDON, GAMBIA (RNZN), CEYLON and CUMBERLAND screened by Destroyers QUILLIAM, QUALITY, QUEENBOROUGH, PATHFINDER, NAPIER, NORMAN, NEPAL, QUIBERON, Dutch destroyers VAN GALEN and TJERKHIDDES to rendezvous with the US aircraft carrier SARATOGA which was to join the Eastern Fleet for joint operations. On the 27th US Task Group 58.5 comprising the fleet carrier SARATOGA and her escorting destroyers DUNLAP, CUMMINGS and FANNING rendezvoused southwest of the Cocos Islands in position 13° 10’ S, 83° 40’’ E and the combined force set course for Trincomalee, arriving off the harbour on the 31st. SARATOGA flew off a percentage of her aircraft, and ILLUSTRIOUS 15 Wing, to R.N. Air Section China Bay.

On April 6th ILLUSTRIOUS sailed as part of Eastern Fleet Task Force 65 in company with USS SARATOGA, HM Cruisers CEYLON and GAMBIA and a screen comprising HM Destroyers QUILLIAM, QUADRANT, QUEENBOROUGH, US destroyers USS FANNING, CUMMINGS and DUNLOP, only the Barracudas of 21 TBR Wing remained on-board.

While still ashore there were two incidents, one fatal; Corsair JT282 ('6A') (1833 Sqn) suffered Elevator damage when it was taxied into by JT297 on April 9th, tragedy struck on the 14th when two pilots were killed in an air crash on the ground; 15 Wing Leader Lt. Cdr R. J. Cork, DSO, DSC coming in to land in JT347, struck JT205 which Sub-Lt J. M. Anderson, RNZNVR (1830 Sqn) was taxying for take-off, both burst into flames killing both pilots. 1830 squadron commanding officer, Lt. Cdr (A) A.M. Tritton DSC, RNVR became the new Wing leader and the Wing re-joined the ship on April 16th in readiness for Operation COCKPIT.

Operation COCKPIT April 16 - 19th this was an air strike by FAA and USN aircraft against the harbour installations, oil tanks, shipping, aircraft and facilities at Lho Nga airfield at Sabang on the island of Pulau Weh at the northern tip of Sumatra.

The Eastern Fleet was divided into two forces for COCKPIT, Force 69 and 70, which sailed from Trincomalee on the 16th. Force 69 comprised the battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH (Flag CinC Eastern Fleet), VALIANT and FS RICHELIEU, light cruisers NEWCASTLE (Flag C4), NIGERIA, CEYLON, HMNZS GAMBIA and HMNLS TROMP, screened by the destroyers PENN, PETARD, ROTHERHAM (D11), RACEHORSE, and HMAS NAPIER (Wearing the broad pennant of Commodore D Eastern Fleet), NEPAL, NIZAM and QUIBERON and HMNLS VAN GALEN. Force 70 comprised the battle cruiser RENOWN (Flag 2iC Eastern Fleet), the aircraft carriers ILLUSTRIOUS (Flag Rear Admiral Aircraft Carriers Eastern Fleet), USS SARATOGA, the heavy cruiser LONDON, screened by the destroyers HMAS QUILLIAM (D4), QUEENBOROUGH and QUADRANT and the USS CUMMINGS, DUNLAP and FANNING.

At 05:30 on the 19th in approximate position 4°30’ N, 94°30’ E the ILLUSTRIOUS and SARATOGA commenced flying off the strike force for the attack on Sabang. The strike force comprised 46 bombers, (17 British and 29 American) and 37 fighters (13 British and 24 American). The strike force arrived over the target at approximately 0620 hours attacking from different directions. The Japanese were caught by surprise and only responded with AA fire after the first bombs had landed. A total of 30 tons of bombs were dropped damaging and/or destroying dockside installations, shipping in the harbour, the power station, wireless station and oil storage tanks. Attacks on Lho Nga airfield damaged or destroyed up to 30 aircraft. One US Hellcat was lost, it crashed into the sea about one mile off Sabang and the pilot was rescued by the submarine TACTICIAN. By 08:00 all aircraft had been recovered and the Fleet set course to return to Trincomalee.

Lho Nga airfield, Sumatra, Dutch East Indies under attack during operation COCKPIT April 19th 1944 NNAM.1996.488.024.026

For the next operation the Barracudas of 21 TBR Wing were replaced by the Avengers of 832 and 845 Squadrons and they flew ashore to RNAS Katukurunda on the 3rd. Tragically two of the Barracudas collided soon after taking off to disembark, Barracuda P9982 ('3K' 847 Sqn) flown by Lt. P. D. Buckland, RNVR was hit by Barracuda LS476 ('2Q' 810 Sqn) both aircraft dived into the sea and sank, those onboard LS476 Sub-Lt D. E. Walmsley, RNVR and two squadron maintenance crew, AM(L) I/ M. F. McArdle and AF(L) S. J. Langman were killed. The Avengers of 832 and 845 Squadrons embarked later the same day flying out from RNAS Katukurunda. Also on the 3rd Sub-Lt E. A. Rogers, RNVR (1833 Sqn) in Corsair JT3IS ('617') crashed through the barrier hitting a gun director.

Operation TRANSOM May 6 – 18th At 15:00 on May 6th the Eastern Fleet sailed from Trincomalee for Operation TRANSOM, an attack by Allied forces against the Japanese-occupied city of Surabaya on the Indonesian island of Java on May 17th. The force included vessels from six different nations: United Kingdom, United States, Australia, France, Netherlands and New Zealand, again forming two Task Forces. TF65 comprised the battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH (Flag CINC Eastern Fleet), VALIANT and FS RICHELIEU, cruisers NEWCASTLE, NIGERIA and HMNLS TROMP and destroyers PENN, RACEHORSE, ROTHERHAM, HMAS NAPIER, NEPAL, QUIBERON and QUICKMATCH, and HMNLS VAN GALEN. TF66 comprised the battlecruiser RENOWN (Flag Vice Admiral 2iC Eastern Fleet), aircraft carriers ILLUSTRIOUS and USS SARATOGA cruisers CEYLON and HMNZS GAMBIA and destroyers HMAS QUILLIAM, QUADRANT, QUEENBOROUGH and USS DUNLAP, CUMMINGS and FANNING.

The Fleet steered south-easterly towards Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia where a tanker group TF67 was waiting for them; they rendezvoused on the morning of the 15th and began refuelling. The corsairs of 15 Wing carried out flying training on passage and there were 3 landing incidents recorded; the first was on the 8th, Sub-Lt A. S. Booth, RNVR (1833 Sqn) in JT367 ('6R') broke his Starboard wheel landing. On the 12th Sub-Lt R. Fullerton, RNVR (1830 Sqn) flying in JT352 ('A7V'), caught a wire which pulled the aircraft down heavily bursting the starboard tyre, damaging the wheel. The third incident on the 14th also involved a broken wheel, this time Lt N. S. Hanson, RNVR (1833 Sqn) flying in JT343 ('6H') broke the port wheel.

The carriers were at the flying off position at 9°48’ S, 113°00’ E, approximately 180 miles south of Surabaya, by 06:30 on the morning of the 17th. ILLUSTRIOUS launched 18 Avengers, and 16 Corsairs, SARATOGA launched 12 Avengers and 18 Dauntless, one of which returned with engine trouble, and 34 Hellcats. Two of the British Avengers ditched on takeoff, one from each squadron; FN928 (832 Sqn,) and FN943 (845 Sqn), all crews were safely recovered. At 08:30 hours the strike force arrived over the target and caught the Japanese by surprise. Ten ships in the harbour were attacked, oil tanks were destroyed, dock facilities destroyed and 14 aircraft were destroyed on the ground. One US plane was lost over the target. The strike aircraft began landing on at 09:30 on completion the Fleet set course for Exmouth Gulf.

Corsairs of 15 Wing being ranged after the Soeraboya strike - the USS SARATOGA and her destroyer escort prepare to pass ILLUSTRIOUS as they depart having concluded their period of joint operations.© IWM A 24269

15 wing had three aircraft damaged, one from enemy fire and 2 further deck crashes on return from the Soeraboya strike, all Corsairs from 1833 squadron. Both crashes ended in hitting the S.4 pom pom; Sub-Lt G. Aitken, RNVR in JT351 ('6L') and Sub-Lt J. R. Baker, RCNVR in JT288. Sub-Lt N. N. Brynildson, RNZNVR in JT312 ('6B) discovered three bullet holes in his starboard wing on landing. At 18:00 on the 18th the USS SARATOGA and her escorts departed for Freemantle on passage to undergo a refit.

On reaching Ceylon 832 and 845 Squadrons disembarked to RNAS Katukurunda on the 27th. Flying training for 15 Wing continued; on May 31st Sub-Lt B. R. Guy, RNVR (1830 Sqn) was killed when flying in Corsair JT298, he broke formation while in cloud and dived into the sea 2 miles SE of Nilavch, Trincomalee. The Barracudas of 21 TBR Wing re-embarked on June 10th from R.N. Air Section China Bay when ILLUSTRIOUS sailed for Operation COUNCILLOR.

Operation COUNCILLOR June 10 -13th was a diversionary sweep into the Indian Ocean intended to distract Japanese attention from American operations in the Marianas Islands. On June 10th ILLUSTRIOUS, HM Escort Aircraft Carrier ATHELING, HM Cruisers GAMBIA (RNZN), CEYLON and PHOEBE screened by Destroyers QUILLIAM, QUALITY, RACEHORSE, REDOUBT, RELENTLESS and RAPID as Force 68. ATHELING was to operate as a spare deck and CAP carrier for the ILLUSTRIOUS but was found to be too slow to be an effective spare deck, there being a speed difference of 12 Knots between the two ships. The operation did not involve launching an actual air strike; the force approached and then withdrew leaving HM Submarine SURF positioned 300 miles west of Sabang, transmitting false signals traffic from the flying off position to make the Japanese think a strike was imminent. The bait was not taken and the force returned to Trincomalee on the 13th. The Eastern Fleet was to maintain a high tempo of operations and ILLUSTRIOUS was to sail again 6 days later for Operation PEDAL.

Operation PEDAL, June 19-21st was a carrier borne air attack on Japanese facilities at Port Blair and other locations in the Andaman Islands group in the Bay of Bengal. After Operation COUNCILLOR the need for more fighter aircraft resulted in an additional Corsair squadron being embarked; 1837 squadron (14 Corsairs) was to be attached to ILLUSTRIOUS for her next two operations. To accommodate the extra fighters the two Barracuda squadrons were to be reduced in size, those aircraft not on-board being held ashore at RAF Minneriya. She sailed for Operation PEDAL with a record 57 aircraft embarked; 15 Barracudas, (9 from 810 Sqn and 6 from 847 Sqn), and 42 Corsairs (14 each) from 1830 & 1833 and 1837 squadrons.

ILLUSTRIOUS sailed as part of Task Force 60 in company with RENOWN, CEYLON, KENYA and NIGERIA, destroyers QUALITY, QUICKMATCH, QUILLIAM, RACEHORSE, RAIDER, RELENTLESS, ROEBUCK and Rotherham, and submarines CLYDE and TANTIVY for air/sea rescue departed Trincomalee on 19 June. 1837 squadron embarked once ILLUSTRIOUS was clear of the harbour. At 05:30 on June 21st ILLUSTRIOUS was at the launch position about 95 miles west of Port Blair and a strike force of 15 Barracudas armed with 2 x 500 M.C. & 2 x 250 S.A.P bombs, escorted by 16 Corsairs began to take-off; one 847 Squadron aircraft went unserviceable on the flight Deck and one returned to the ship shortly after take-off. The remaining 13 Barracudas departed at 06:15. A further 8 Corsairs were launched to establish Combat Air Patrols above the task force itself. The weather over the Andaman Islands was poor, and the Barracudas found it hard to locate their targets.

Operation PEDAL June 21st 1944: A Barracuda from the strike being struck down into the hangar to make room for other returning aircraft to move forward into the forward deck park after landing on. Corsairs of 1830 can be seen on the starboard side (coded 7- ) and from 1833 (coded 6- ) on the port side of the forward lift. © IWM A 24709

At the height of the operation, ILLUSTRIOUS had 53 of her 57 aircraft airborne. It took an hour to recover all aircraft successfully. The Barracudas were tasked with bombing harbour facilities and faced stiff anti-aircraft fire as they dove through scattered rainstorms over their targets. Another force of Corsairs were tasked with strafing targets; Half of them to strafe shipping, a seaplane base, a sawmill, and a headquarters building. The other half were sent to attack nearby airfields. No Japanese fighter opposition was encountered, but a handful of Japanese aircraft were claimed as destroyed on the ground.

The mission was deemed a moderate success: Two Barracudas had to return before dropping their bombs with engine failure, one Barracuda from 810 squadron was shot down over Port Blair, the crew taken prisoner, a damaged 1833 Squadron Corsair, hit by a shell in the tail managed to struggle back to the ship, the pilot Sub-Lt J. R. Baker, RCNVR landed safely. The Force withdrew later that day and arrived back at Trincomalee on the 22nd. 1837 disembarked to RNAS Colombo Racecourse on the 23rd.

Operation CRIMSON July 22-27th this operation involved a naval bombardment and aerial strikes on Japanese airfields in the Indonesian cities of Sabang, Lhoknga and Kutaraja on the Island of Sumatra with carrier aircraft suppressing the airfields and providing air cover for the bombarding force. force 62 comprised of the Carriers VICTORIOUS and ILLUSTRIOUS, battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH, VALIANT, RENOWN, and the French battleship RICHELIEU, Cruisers CEYLON, CUMBERLAND, GAMBIA, NIGERIA, PHOEBE, and TROMP, with Destroyers QUALITY, QUICKMATCH, QUILLIAM, RACEHORSE, RAIDER, RAPID, RELENTLESS, ROCKET, ROEBUCK, and ROTHERHAM, supported by submarines TEMPLAR and TANTALUS.

ILLUSTRIOUS retained the same 57 aircraft for this strike as for the earlier operation PEDAL; ; the 15 Barracudas, were all from 810 squadron (847 had been absorbed by 810 at the end of June), and 42 Corsairs. VICTORIOUS only embarked 39 Corsair fighters, 1834, 1836 and 1838 squadrons (1838 had 11 aircraft).

The carriers launched their first strike aircraft from a position 35 miles north of Sabang before dawn, at 05:30 on the morning of July 25th. ILLUSTRIOUS launched 18 Corsairs, while Victorious sent up 16. Eight from each carrier were tasked with attacking Sabang airfield (a ‘Ramrod’ sweep). Two from Illustrious were sent to attack a radar/radio station. The remainder were to form a CAP over the bombardment ships.

The launch had been planned for pre-dawn to allow the strike sorties to approach out of the dawn, but this was delayed because the fight deck parties struggled to range the aircraft in the darkness. Launch was 5 minutes late and further delay came when the strike groups attempted to assemble before setting off for the coast. 1838 squadron’s aircraft set out on the wrong course, and struggled to locate its target in the darkness using old maps. Errors in the planning soon became apparent; it was still dark as the Ramrod aircraft struck at 06:00 and straffed their targets, the airfields of Sabang, Lho Nga and Kotaraj; they faced intense anti-aircraft fire and targets were difficult to identify in the pre-dawn light. Nevertheless, two Japanese aircraft were claimed destroyed, and two damaged, on the ground. One damaged Corsair limped over the coast and out to sea where the pilot was rescued. Aircraft then acted as bombardment spotters for the Battleships which commenced fire at 06:55. Two small ships were sunk, oil facilities were set alight and harbour infrastructure destroyed. The force withdrew at 09:30, and two Japanese aircraft tried to shadow, but both were intercepted and shot down.

Corsairs of 15 Wing tightly packed into the main hangar on ILLUSTRIOUS © IWM A 24278

In the morning four of ILLUSTRIOUS' 1833 squadron pilots, Sub-Lt N. N. Brynildson, RNZNVR in JT207 ('6B'), Lt W. K. Munnoch, RNVR in JT297 ('6K'), Sub-Lt. F. C. Starkey, RNVR in JT284 ( '6M') and Sub-Lt K. W. Seebeck, RNZNVR in JT282 ('6S'), attacked a Ki-21 'Sally' which was shot down into the sea and exploded 20 miles West of Sabang, at 09:30. An A6M ‘Zero’ was shot down at 11:25 by two pilots from 15 Wing; Lt A. W. Sutton, RCNVR (1833  Sqn) in JT367 ('6R') and Sub-Lt A. H. Brown, RNVR (1830 Sqn) in JT345 ('7C') engaged the enemy which caught fire close to its port wing root, turned to starboard and dove into the sea.

Later that afternoon 15 Wing pilots were in the thick of the action when a group of 10 A6M ‘Zero’ or Ki-43 ‘Oscar’ fighters was detected on radar 50 miles out, approaching the Force. They were engaged by a group of 13 Corsairs. Sub-Lt F.B. Hoffer, RNZNVR and Sub-Lt FG.L. Morgan, RCNVR from 1838, VICTORIOUS each shot down one ‘Zero’. Two others were damaged in the exchange. Two of 1837s’ aircraft were involved in the aerial combat, both being flown by pilots from 1830 squadron, Lt P.S. Cole, RNVR in ’7E’ engaged 2 A6Ms at 18:05, one pulled up in a steep climb and was lost to view, the other crashed into the sea with its tail missing. Sub-Lt B. D. Quigg, RNZNVR (1830 Sqn) in JT364 ('7S') engaged an A6M which pulled away in a steep climbing turn, flattened out and crashed into the sea at 18:10. Sub-Lt H. D. Whelpton, RNVR in ‘7K’ claimed an A6M shot down into the sea at 18:15. One final enemy plane was destroyed at 18:30 by Sub-Lt M. Barbour, RNZNVR (1830 Sqn) in JT203 ('7Q'), he attacked an A6M which was shot down into the sea west of Sabang. Sub-Lt J. S. Buchan, RNVR (1833  Sqn) in JT358 ('6P') claimed a possible A6M shot down after he engaged and sent it down towards the sea, on returning to the carrier he made a heavy landing, after catching No.7 wire his starboard wing hit the S.4 pom-pom mount. Two other 1833  squadron Corsairs returned from the strike damaged; Sub-Lt Blake flying in JT348 ('6F') was hit over Sabang and Lt. Hanson in JT371 ('6A') was hit in the engine Strafing Sabang airfield.

The Force arrived back at Trincomalee at 13:30 on July 27th and 1837 flew ashore to RNAS Colombo Racecourse. Later that day the remainder of 810 squadron re-joined the ship from RAF Minneriya the squadron now operating 21 Barracudas.

Allocated for operations with the British Pacific Fleet

With the arrival on station of both INDOMITABLE and VICTORIOUS in June ILLUSTRIOUS was released from operations to undergo a long overdue refit in South Africa to prepare her for joining the planned British Pacific Fleet (BPF). She sailed from Trincomalee on July 30th and called at Addu Atoll and Diego Suarez on passage, arriving at Durban on August 9th to refuel before continuing on to Cape Town the same day. The aircraft of 15 Wing and 810 squadron were flown ashore to RNAS Wingfield on August 11th, and after disembarking the squadron personnel and equipment the ship returned to Durban to enter the dockyard for repairs to her centre propeller shaft and a refit. Increasingly noticeable vibration was felt over the past months when increasing speed to operate aircraft, this threatened to reduce her operational capabilities.

While ashore the aircrew were given leave; on return the two Corsair squadrons were enlarged to 20 pilots and 18 aircraft each. This was achieved by disbanding 1838 squadron when it arrived at RNAS Wingfield on September 12th, 4 aircraft and 8 pilots joining 1830 and 1833 squadrons. ILLUSTRIOUS arrived back off Cape Town on October 13th and after two months ashore training her air wings began re-embarking their aircraft beginning at 08:00. The carrier docked in Cape Town at 17:00 and all squadron personnel, baggage, equipment and stores were embarked.

After a stormy passage, during which time little flying was possible, ILLUSTRIOUS arrived back at Trincomalee on November 1st. After refuelling she sailed for Colombo, on the 2nd; the two squadrons of 15 Wing flew ashore on passage; 1830 to RNAS Colombo Racecourse and 1833 to RAF Koggala to conduct further training. The Barracudas of 810 squadron also left the ship on November 2nd to fly to the RN Air Maintenance Yard at Coimbatore, Southern India; the Barracuda was not suitable for operations in the Pacific so the squadron was to return to the UK to regroup. 1833 squadron was to practice fighter/bomber techniques using jungle ranges at Koggala while 1830 practiced close escort and ground attack techniques. 1830 moved down the coast to RNAS Puttalam on the 17th with a detachment of 8 aircraft operating from R.N. Air Section China Bay between the 21st and 25th; the whole squadron then relocated to RNAS Katukurunda on the 27th. Both 15 Wing squadrons re-joined ILLUSTRIOUS on November 29th, 1833 from RNAS Trincomalee (RAF China Bay became an RN Air Station on November 15th 1944 and renamed RNAS Trincomalee). They were joined on December 1st by 854 squadron equipped with 16 Avenger Mk. Is.

Operation ROBSON December 17 – 22nd this was the first of four operations to be undertaken by the BPF in preparation for joining the American forces in the Pacific, collectively known as Operation OUTFLANK. The operation called for an airborne strike against the Japanese oil installations at Pangkalan Brandan on the north-west coast of Sumatra in the Japanese-occupied Netherlands East Indies.

On December 17th ILLUSTRIOUS was deployed with Force 67 which comprised INDOMITABLE (857 Avenger, 1839 and 1844 Hellcat Squadrons – 50 aircraft) and ILLUSTRIOUS (854 Avenger, 1830 and 1833 Corsair Squadrons – 43 aircraft), cruisers ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE and NEWCASTLE, escorted by destroyers KEMPENFELT, WAKEFUL, WESSEX, WHIRLWIND and WRANGLER. The oiler group, Force 69, comprised RFA WAVE KING and the destroyers WAGER and WHELP. The fleet reached the flying-off position in the early morning of December 20th. The strike force comprised of 28 Avengers, INDOMITABLE supplied 12 and ILLUSTRIOUS 16, each with four 500-lb bombs; ILLUSTRIOUS also launched 4 Corsairs, each with two 500-lb bombs. Among the escorts, top cover was provided by 8 Hellcats from INDOMITABLE, middle cover by 12 Corsairs from ILLUSTRIOUS, and close cover by a further eight Hellcats from INDOMITABLE.

The operation began at 06:36; their primary target was the refinery at Pangkalan Brandan with secondary targets at Belawan Deli. The strike force ran into heavy cloud as they approached the Sumatran coast and was unable to locate the primary target. The strike was diverted to Belawan Deli, where the weather was little better, the Avengers bombed the wharves from 1500 feet, while the Corsairs strafed the fuel storage tanks and warehouses in the town. A train was also hit at nearby Kuala Simpang. The anti-aircraft artillery at Belawan Deli was ineffective and no enemy fighters were put in the air, although one Ki-21 'Sally' was surprised and shot down by two Hellcats from 1839 squadron. The raid ended in chaos, with complete loss of radio discipline, the resulting ‘radio bedlam’ meant that the strike force and escorts had to rendezvous just beneath the clouds and visually assemble and form up for the return leg. All 55 aircraft had landed by 10:50, and the force retired, arriving back at Trincomalee on the 22nd.

ILLUSTRIOUS was not required for the next outing, operation LENTIL, she was to remain at Trincomalee and each squadron from 15 Wing flew ashore a detachment of 7 aircraft to operate from RNAS Trincomalee. The 1830 detachment re-joined the ship at sea on January 12th 1945. ILLUSTRIOUS and the rest of the BPF took part in a full scale rehearsal for the next operation on the 13th, her aircraft were in operation from dawn till dusk carrying out simulated airborne attacks on airfields and other targets in Ceylon.

There were three flying accidents on the 13th, two deck crashes and a ditching; Sub-Lt S. Newton, RNVR (1830 Sqn) in Corsair JT364 ('7S') missed wires and entered the barrier writing off his aircraft, he was rescued safely. During the final round of landings at the end of the exercise commencing at 15:30 , one of the pilots, Sub-Lt A. P. Graham-Cann, RNVR (1830 Sqn) in JT434 landed on the aft lift, the aircraft bounced clearing all the arrestor wires before engaging the barriers, the long range drop tank was dislodged and shot forward only to be cut in half as it engaged the prop, its petrol ignited and quickly spread across the after end of the flight deck fanned by 30 knots of wind as the carrier was steaming into wind. The pilot was extracted from the cockpit by the crash crew but later died of his injuries. The flight deck was now completely out of action and the remaining Corsairs in the landing circuit were instructed to land at China Bay to refuel and await instructions. A few hours later the deck was cleared for recovery of the remaining aircraft and they began landing once fueling was completed. The last but one to approach the ship was Sub-Lt E. A. Rogers, RNVR (1833 Sqn) in JT576, he was seen to turn sharply in the landing circuit and spun into the sea behind the carrier, he was not recovered.

Operation MERIDIAN One

The first two stages of Operation OUTFLANK (operations ROBSON and LENTIL) had been rehearsals for the next two, MERIDIAN One & Two; the forces involved in ROBSON and LENTIL had returned to Ceylon between strikes to regroup but there would be no respite between the two MERIDIAN strikes which were to be conducted by the British Pacific Fleet while on passage to Australia.

Designated Task Force 63 the vessels of the BPF sailed from Trincomalee on January 16th 1945 and were expected to spend the next 20 days at sea. TF63 comprised of Fleet Carriers INDEFATIGABLE (Flag 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron (1ACS), Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, KBE, DSO) (820, 887, 894, and 1770 Naval Air Squadrons – 73 aircraft), INDOMITABLE (857, 1839 and 1844 Naval Air Squadrons – 50 aircraft), VICTORIOUS (849, 1834 and 1836 Naval Air Squadrons – 55 aircraft) and ILLUSTRIOUS (854, 1830, 1833 squadrons + 2 Walrus – 55 aircraft), Battleship KING GEORGE V (Flag Vice Admiral Sir Henry Bernard Rawlings 2iC British Pacific Fleet), cruisers ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, CEYLON and EURYALUS, Destroyers GRENVILLE, KEMPENFELT, UNDAUNTED, UNDINE, URSA, WAGER WAKEFUL, WESSEX, WHIRLWIND, and WHELP. A Replenishment Group, Force 69, comprising the Tankers ECHODALE, WAVE KING, and EMPIRE SALVAGE escorted by the Destroyer URCHIN departed earlier, on January 13th; the cruiser CEYLON detached from TF63 to join the Replenishment Group on the 20th when the two forces first rendezvoused, another Tanker, ARNDALE sailed from Fremantle on the 15th to join TF69.

After refuelling from the tankers of Force 69 on the 20th Force 63 approached the flying off position during the night of 21st-22nd January; weather conditions were bad and the Force withdrew, returning the following night with the same result. On the third night conditions were fine, MERIDIAN operations commenced on the morning of January 24th from a flying off position, approximately 200 miles from the target, Pladjoe refinery. The flying programme called for 140 aircraft; 48 Avengers, 32 Corsairs, 16 Hellcats, and 12 Fireflies for the main strike force and escort, 5 Avengers and 4 Hellcats for a secondary strike, and 24 Corsairs fighter bombers for RAMROD sweeps.

Flying began at 06:15 and during the next 45 minutes the strike force of 48 Avengers, 12 from each of the four carriers, each armed with four 500-lb bombs, assembled with 16 Corsairs from VICTORIOUS as top cover, a further 8 Corsairs and 16 Hellcats from INDOMITABLE as middle cover, 11 Fireflies from INDEFATIGABLE as Bow escort and 8 Corsairs from 1833 Sqn as stern cover. Two Avenger were damaged on INDEFATIGABLE before take-off and a further 4 Avengers and 2 Corsairs dropped out of the forming wing for emergency landings. At 07:04, nine minutes late, the strike force of 96 aircraft – 42 Avengers, 36 Corsairs and 16 Hellcats headed for the objective lead by Major R. C. Hay RM, VICTORIOUS’ 47 Wing leader and Air Co-ordinator for the strike.

The carriers were slow in preparing the second range, and where hampered by aircraft of the first Strike returning for emergency landings. Flying off the second range was not completed until about 07:20; Strike Zebra was launched from INDOMITABLE at 07:09, 5 Avengers (857 Sqn) and 4 Hellcats (1844 Sqn) as escort tasked with neutralising Mana airfield on the coast. Force X-Ray comprised of 24 Corsairs (12 from 1830 Sqn ILLUSTRIOUS & 12 from 1834 Sqn VICTORIOUS), divided into three flights of eight, call signs ‘Whippet I, II, and III’, for the Ramrod tasked with suppressing Lembak, Palembang and Talengbetoetoe airfields in succession. Also ranged was the 12 Fireflies of 1770 Squadron for the main Strike Bow cover. The 1770 squadron C.O.’s aircraft went unserviceable at launch and remaining 11 Fireflies formed up at 07:15 - two others had to return to base with defects soon after. As a result of these delays the remaining 9 Fireflies did not join up with the striking force until that force was approaching the deployment point and pressed on to complete their task of strafing the refineries defences with their 20mm cannons armed with armour-piercing and incendiary ammunition. The Ramrod was 15 minutes late departing and did not make up any time on route to the first target. A Reconnaissance group of 2 PR Hellcats of 1839 squadron were launched at 08:00.

The Avenger squadrons were divided into two wings; No.1 Wing- 857 (INDOMITABLE) and 849 (VICTORIOUS), while No. 2 had 854 (ILLUSTRIOUS) and 820 (INDEFATIGABLE). When they arrived over the target they discovered barrage balloons had been added to the Pladjoe refinery defences. They deployed for their attack at 08:11 and Wing one began their run at 08:14 followed by Wing two. The strike was over by 08:22 and the Avengers made for their rally point. Meanwhile the escorting fighters had been engaged in heavy dog fights over the target as enemy fighters had been quick to respond once the alarm had been raised.

The first of the returning aircraft landed on at 09:40 and recovery was completed by 10:25. The fighter escort reported fairly stiff enemy opposition and claimed 13 single and twin engined fighters destroyed with 6 probable. The Ramrod Sweep achieved its object destroying 34 aircraft on the ground and damaging humorous others. The main Strike resulted in probable hits on one power house, three crude distilleries, two other distillation units, a cracking plant and a reforming unit. A Wireless Station 3 miles North West of the town was also left in flames. The small striking force sent to MANA reported little activity there. One aircraft was destroyed on the ground and bombs were dropped on the runway. 15 Wing claimed one Ki44 ‘Tojo’ destroyed during an engagement by Lt H. James, RNVR (1833 Sqn) shared with Lt A. H. Churchill, RNZNVR (1833 Sqn) which was last seen diving steeply on fire at 08:30 and a A6M ‘Zero’ possibly destroyed at low level over Talengbetoetoe airfield at 08:35.

The Fleet lost 7 aircraft and 10 aircrew in operational sorties - 2 Avenger and their crews, 7 Corsair and 2 pilots, 1 Hellcat and 1 Seafire. Two Seafires were written off in deck crashes. TF63 began to withdraw at 10:30 retiring to the south-west at 22 knots towards the refuelling area. The 2 PR Hellcats landed on at 11:30 having photographed 11 airfields, 6 of which were new, and the target.

During the day 15 Wing lost 5 aircraft; 2 pilots from Force X-Ray were killed in action, 2 from the Strike escort were taken prisoner and one rescued after ditching. Sub-Lt A. H. Brown, RNVR (1830 Sqn) in Corsair JT440 was hit by flack during a strafing attack on Palembang III landing strip, his aircraft was seen to somersault in flames along the line of parked enemy aircraft. Lt A. W. Sutton, RCNVR (1830 Sqn) flying in JT593 (a 1833 Sqn aircraft) failed to return from an attack on Talengbetoetoe airfield, he was believed to have been hi and crashed after making his third strafing run.

Two pilots from 1833 Sqn survived being shot down and were taken prisoner, Sub-Lt R. I. A. Shaw RNVR was last seen being chased by 2 Ki44 ‘Tojo’ on his tail, and Lt E. J. Baxter, RNZNVR was hit by flack and was forced to bale out over Simpang. Lt. Cdr Hanson (1833 Sqn C.O.) flying in JT690 ditched on final approach to land on return from the strike; his aircraft flaps were not responding as he made a cautious approach when another Corsair suddenly cut in front of him making its own approach, its pilot not seeing Hanson because of the angle of approach and the difference in altitude, he was caught in its slipstream causing the starboard wing to stall, despite his best efforts to recover the undercarriage struck the water and the aircraft flipped over onto its back in the wake of the ship and began to sink; after escaping underwater he was quickly rescued by the destroyer WESSEX and re-joined the carrier the next day but was unfit to fly in next operation.

Operation MERIDIAN Two

Task Force 63 spent the next four days in the replenishment area in preparation for launching phase two of MERIDIAN, a strike on the second Palembang refinery at Soengi Gerong.

At 06:00 on January 29th TF63 was again at the flying off position but bad weather delayed the first launch until 06:40. As a result of an examination carried out operation the orders for the second strike were modified; the fighter Ramrod sweep was to be flown in two parts, timed so that the two independent squadrons should arrived simultaneously at the two main enemy fighter airfields and then to establish patrols overt the enemy's airfields on completion of the sweeps. The bombers were to proceed to the rendezvous by a different withdrawal route, passing south of the target in order to avoid the heavy fire encountered round Palembang Town.

As before the strike force comprised of 48 Avengers, 12 from each carrier, Bow cover of 10 Fireflies, Close cover: 12 Corsairs, Top cover 12 Corsairs, Mid cover 16 Hellcats. The Ramrod forces – ‘X-Ray’ (12 from 1834 Sqn VICTORIOUS) and ‘Yoke’ (12 from 1830 Sqn ILLUSTRIOUS) to suppress Japanese airfields would now be synchronised to minimise the enemy’s response time to their arrival and prevent too many enemy fighters getting airborne.

A Reconnaissance group of 2 PR Hellcats of 1839 squadron and 2 Fireflies were also launched, the later to Mana airfield. An additional 4 Hellcats and 8 Corsairs were retained to supplement the Fleet CAP; the Seafire was the primary CAP aircraft due to its short range which ruled it out of the strikes but this type was not ideal for deck landing and many were put out of action through deck landing accidents.

Problems arose almost straightaway, three Avengers and 1 Firefly did not launch, 1 Avenger from INDOMITABLE ditched with engine failure shortly after take-off while another 3 experienced problems and had to make an emergency landing. Form-up was completed by 07:34, four minutes late; the strike force was now reduced to 41 Avengers. The second launch of the RAMROD, bow cover Fireflies and PR Hellcats, followed shortly after. Two Corsairs turned back with engine troubles.

Ramrods ‘X-Ray’ and ‘Yoke’ arrived over Lembak and Talengbetoetoe airfields at 08:30 but strangely both airfields were virtually deserted. The Japanese had been alerted when the force crossed the coast and were already in the air waiting. The strike force was engaged by Japanese fighters at 08:14, 50 miles out from Palembang and the escort engaged. The Avengers arrived over the target to find the refinery was again defended by Barrage Balloons which were to cause havoc for the later strike aircraft once smoke from burning oil obscured the area. They began their Dive-Bombing runs at 08:45; two Avengers from 854 squadron struck Balloon cables and went down others were damaged by accurate flack but found their targets. They were mauled by fighters on the way to the rendezvous point but departed for the coast at 09:01. Landing on began at 10:15 and would take more than an hour for all returning aircraft to arrive; 6 badly damaged Avengers ditched , 2 others and a Corsair were ordered to ‘ditch or bale out’ to minimise the risk of fouling a flight deck. The CAP had been in action as early as 09:00 chasing radar contacts and shooting down one out of a small group of attackers at 09:40 before the rest retreated.

January 29th 1945, Operation MERIDIAN Two: The nerve centre of the Japanese Oil refinery at Soengi Gerong, blazing fiercely after the strike flown off carriers of the British Pacific Fleet. © IWM A 28007

The force did not come under attack until 11:50 when a group of 7 Mitsubishi Ki-21 ‘Sally’ Kamikaze bombers approached, the CAP Seafires and Corsairs engaged, 3 Hellcats scrambled from INDOMITABLE when the attackers were in range of her 4.5 inch guns. The bombers, now at 50 feet, appeared to have singled-out ILLUSTRIOUS and INDEFATIGABLE; all were destroyed but two came within yards of the two carriers. The Hellcats claimed 2 kills at 12:00, the Seafires claiming another four; the last was destroyed by ship borne gunfire. During this action ILLUSTRIOUS was hit by ‘friendly fire’ from the cruiser EURYALUS, two 5.25 inch A.A. shells hit the ship killing 12 and injuring 22 others.

MERIDIAN operations were completed at 15:30 as TF63 steamed for the replenishment area. During the day the Fleet lost 15 aircraft and 16 aircrew in operational sorties - 8 Avenger and their crews, 4 Corsair and 2 pilots, 1 Firefly and crew and 1 Seafire. 1 Corsair was written off in a deck crash.

15 Wing lost 3 aircraft; all were from 1830 squadron and in the vicinity of the fleet but all pilots were safely recovered, Sub-Lt B. McLaren, RNVR landing in JT468 cleared both barriers and crashed over the starboard side forward, he was picked up by WHELP. Sub-Lt H. D. Whelpton, RNVR in JT539 suffered hydraulic failure and was ordered to bale out, he was safely rescued. A third, unidentified Corsair and pilot were ordered to ditch 7 miles ahead of the fleet, the pilot was rescued by KEMPEMFELT. 15 Wing aircraft shot down 3 Ki44 ‘Tojo’ Lt. Churchill, RNZNVR (1833 Sqn) flying in JT360 ('A6P'), shot one down in flames at 09:15, and Sub-Lt D. H. Pawson, RCNVR (1830 Sqn) shot down 2 during the attack on Lemnak airfield.

A combined total of 378 sorties were flown during MERIDIAN One and Two, the Fleet losses were 41 aircraft;- 16 lost in action, 11 ditched and another 14 were lost as a result of deck landing accidents, 30 aircrew were lost; 23 killed and 7 taken as POW. Enemy losses were 20 confirmed and 7 probable destroyed in the air and 38 on the ground.

Operations in the Pacific

After a final replenishment on January 30th and calling at Fremantle on February 4th, TF63 arrived off the New South Wales Coast on February 9th when 1830 and 1833 squadrons were flown ashore to RNAS Nowra (M.O.N.A.B. I, HMS NABBINGTON). There was only one flying incident on passage on February 8th, Lt. R. H. Anton (1833 Sqn) entered the barrier in JT586 ('145/Q') damaging the prop.

On arrival at Sydney ILLUSTRIOUS was taken into dockyard hands for further repairs, some resulting from the ‘friendly fire’ but more serious was the continuing problem with her centre shaft. On March 2nd, 1945 she entered the new Captain Cook Graving Dock, three weeks before the official opening ceremony, to have the centre propeller shaft removed. On returning to active duty her top speed was reduced from 30 to 24 knots. Her squadrons were to remain ashore for four weeks, receiving replacement aircraft and aircrew before re-embarking on March 7th when she sailed to join the fleet at Manus.

The BPF, now designated as Task Force 113T (F113) had sailed from Sydney in an easterly gale on February 28th. The Force comprised of the 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron, INDOMITABLE (Flag, 1ACS,, Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian, KBE, DSO), INDEFATIGABLE, and VICTORIOUS, the 1st Battle Squadron, HMS KING GEORGE V (Flag Vice Admiral Sir Henry Bernard Rawlings 2iC British Pacific Fleet), HMS HOWE, 4th Cruiser Squadron, SWIFTSURE, (Flagship CS 4 Rear Admiral E. J. P. Brind, CB, CBE), GAMBIA), ARGONAUT, BLACK PRINCE, EURYALUS, (Flag of Rear Admiral (D) Rear Admiral J. H. Edelsten, CB, CBE), Destroyers GRENVILLE (Captain D 25) KEMPENFELT (Captain D 27), QUEENBOROUGH, QUICKMATCH, QUALITY, ULSTER, UNDINE, URSA, WAKEFUL, WHIRLWIND, WHELP, WESSEX, and the maintenance Carrier UNICORN. The ships of TF 113 arrived at Manus, the Admiralty Islands on March 7th. ILLUSTRIOUS, escorted by UNDAUNTED and URANIA arrived at Manus on the 13th. After refuelling and taking on ammunition and stores at Manus the British pacific Fleet sailed for Ulithi Atoll on the 14th, arriving there on the 18th.


Task Force 57 & ICEBERG phase one: March 26th – April 21st

The British Pacific Fleet, sailed from Ulithi at 06:30 on March 23rd 1945, now redesignated Task Force 57 (TF57) it came under the operational control of Admiral Raymond Spruance USN, CINC US Fifth Fleet.

Replenishment period 1, March 25: TF57 met with the Logistic Support Group LSG  for a short replenishment at sea on the 25th which included the issuing of 4 replacement aircraft from the replenishment CVE STRIKER and topping off fuel tanks.

ICEBERG phase one TF57 joined US Task Force 58 on the 26th for joint attacks on islands of the Sakishima-Gunto group in support of preparations for US landings on Okinawa. This was the first of 12 strike sorties against Japanese airfields on the Islands of the Sakishima-Gunto group in operation ICEBERG One.

For the first phase of operation ICEBERG the carriers had embarked 218 aircraft; INDEFATIGABLE 40 Seafire, 20 Avenger, and 9 Firefly, INDOMITABLE 29 Hellcat, and 15 Avenger, ILLUSTRIOUS 36 Corsair, and 16 Avenger, and VICTORIOUS 37 Corsair, 14 Avenger, and 2 Walrus. The carriers were tasked with denying the Japanese use of airfields on two Islands in the Sakishima-Gunto group in a series of 12 strike days conducted in rotating cycles of 2-3 days of strikes and 2 – 3 days of replenishment; Because of the long distances involved between the operational area and the nearest forward base, all replenishment had to be done at sea. When TF57 stood down to replenish the strike task was taken over by USN elements TF58 and later TF52.

Iceberg strike series 1, March 26 - 27: ICEBERG operations began at 06:05 on March 26th when the first CAP and one ASP (Anti-Submarine Patrol) aircraft were flown off. At 06:35 a 48 aircraft strong Hellcat and Corsair RAMROD was flown off from a position 100 miles 180° from Miyako Jima to attack the airfields at Ishigaki and Miyako; they reported little activity there. At 08:50 one aircraft was reported as having ditched 20 miles from Tarima Shirra; this was Sub-Lt Wilson of 1844 squadron, his aircraft (an unidentified 1839 Squadron Hellcat) had been hit in the engine by flak over Ishigaki. He was rescued by a Walrus from VICTORIOUS. The fighter sweeps were followed by two escorted bomber strikes and one fighter bomber strike against airfields and associated buildings.

Once all aircraft had been recovered the Fleet withdrew to the south eastward. The Fleet had lost 11 aircraft 3 Avenger and their crews 1 Corsair and pilot, 1 Hellcat and 1 Firefly as operational losses. Another 5 aircraft in accidents. Enemy losses were 35 aircraft destroyed on the ground; Many of these turned out to be dummies and as few as 12 were believed real.

ILLUSTRIOUS lost 1 Avenger during the strike, FN863 ('Z') from 854 Sqn which was hit by flak diving on target and crashed into the sea killing all three aircrew. One Corsair, JT579 ('A6S') (1833 Sqn) flown by Sub-Lt R. H. Ayrtoa, RNVR struck the S.3 pom-pom mount with his Starboard wingtip landing on. Many of the claimed 35 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground turned out to be dummies and as few as 12 were real.

At 02:45 in the early morning of March 27th a bogey was detected by radar to the eastward. A Hellcat was then flown off from INDOMITABLE to intercept, but the moon became obscured by a cloud when the pilot was about to open fire and the enemy escaped in the darkness. The fleet was again in position 100 miles south of Myako Jima at sunrise and the CAP and ASP were launched at 06:05 followed by a 24 aircraft strong Hellcat and Corsair RAMROD fighter sweep sent into Ishigaki Jima, they reported little activity. Two bomber strikes, each of 24 Avengers and 4 rocket equipped Fireflies, were directed against radio stations, barracks and airfields not covered the previous day. Coasters off the islands were also attacked. The final mission was a small fighter bomber strike. A typhoon was reported as heading towards the Sakishima-Gunto group so the decision was taken to cancel the air and bombardment programme planned against Ishigaki Jima for the 28th and the Fleet withdrew to the replenishment area east of Luzon, after the second day's strikes had been landed on.

The Fleet had lost 13 aircraft, 3 Avengers and 1 crew, 1 Corsair and pilot due to enemy action and 2 Seafire and their pilots as operational losses. Another 6 aircraft were lost in accidents. ILLUSTRIOUS lost 1 Avenger during the strike, JZ251 from 854 Sqn, its port wing was badly damaged by flak, caught fire and broke off on the return journey, into sea inverted; the pilot Lt. Cd F. C. Nottingham. RNVR (Sqn C.O.) baled out but Lt F. W. Squires, RNVR and PO Airman P. H. Firth were killed. One Corsair, JT634 (1833 Sqn) flown by Sub-Lt J. H. Clark, RNVR arrester hook bounced twice, aircraft entered the barrier landing on.

As a result of the night intercept early that morning it was decided that INDOMITABLE should keep 4 Hellcats at readiness on deck after dusk; although not a Night Fighter variant the Hellcat was considered the ‘safer’ night landing aircraft due to its shorter nose giving better pilot sight--lines on approach.

Replenishment period 2, March 28 - 30: The LSG were waiting at the prearranged rendezvous, in area MIDGE One, a rectangular area which covered 5000 square miles of ocean, at 07:30 on the 28th TF57 met the Tanker Group and began refuelling. STRIKER were waiting at the prearranged rendezvous, in area MIDGE One, a rectangular area which covered 5000 square miles of ocean, at 07:30 on the 28th. TF57 met the Tanker Group and began refuelling. STRIKER  issued 13 replacement aircraft to the fleet and recovered three flyable, but unserviceable, aircraft; in addition she transferred replacement Avenger aircrew to 854 Squadron in ILLUSTRIOUS. Replenishment was complete by mid-afternoon on March 30th.

Iceberg strike series 2, March 31 – April 2nd: TF57 was in its flying-off position at 25°N, 125°23’ E by dawn on March 31st in readiness to resume strike operations. It was vital that TF57 should resume its strikes on the enemy airfields because April 1st was L-Day for the American amphibious assault on the western coast of Okinawa. Pre-dawn CAP and ASP sweeps followed by the Fighter Ramrod launch at sunrise were now standing procedure and the force repeated the attacks of the previous strike days. A fighter TCAP (Target area Combat Air Patrol) of four fighters was now to be maintained over both Ishigaki and Miyako. The Ramrod of 8 Hellcats and 16 Corsairs reported that there appeared to be little activity at either island. Two bomber strikes of 11 Avengers each were flown off at 12:15 and 15:15, to strike Ishigaki airfield, installations and barracks. The Fleet had lost 4 aircraft 2 Avengers and 1 crew, due to enemy action. 1 Hellcat and 1 Corsair were lost in accidents. 1 Hellcat and 1 Corsair were lost in accidentshe barrier attempting to land on ILLUSTRIOUS’ pitching deck.

At 06:50, on April 1st bogeys were detected by radar to the westward, closing at 210 knots at 8,000 feet. The Ramrod Hellcats and Corsairs were already on their way to Ishigaki and were recalled to intercept, additional fighters were flown off. Corsairs, Hellcats and Seafires engaged the enemy. Four were destroyed but the bulk reached the fleet; one A6M ‘Zero’ was engaged, by 2 Corsairs from 1836 squadron 70 miles south of Sakishima Gunto at 07:30 which spun into the sea.

The enemy planes commenced their attacks on the fleet at 07:10. One aircraft machine-gunned INDOMITABLE killing one rating and wounding two officers and four ratings. It made a similar attack on KING GEORGE V but without causing casualties. The fleet’s gunners reported it was difficult to identify enemy planes from our own since they were hard on the enemy heels. At 07:27 the first Kamikaze attack took place; one enemy plane dived into the base of INDEFATIGABLE’s island. Four officers and ten ratings were killed, and sixteen others wounded. The flight deck was temporarily out of action, but later that day aircraft were again being operated from the ship, although at a reduced scale.

By mid-day the fleet was able to resume flight operations; at 12:15 a strike of 16 Avengers escorted by Corsairs was launched against Ishigaki to bomb airfields and runways. No activity was noted. At 14:30 reports were received from the TCAP over the islands that more aircraft had been sighted at Hirara and Ishigaki airfields. These were attacked by the TCAP and this was followed by a fighter Ramrod sweep. It was estimated that about 14 enemy aircraft were destroyed on the ground during this attack and others damaged.

A second Kamikaze attack of 4 aircraft managed to evade INDOMITABLE’s CAP Hellcats and reached the Fleet at 17:30; one made a dive on VICTORIOUS, the attacker was damaged by the ship’s A.A. fire and the plane touched its wing on the flight deck edge spinning harmlessly into the sea where its bomb exploded clear of the ship. [It is unclear what happened to the other 3 attackers] At dusk the fleet disengaged and steamed south eastwards. The Fleet had lost 4 aircraft 2 Avengers and 1 crew, due to enemy action and 2 Seafire and one pilot as operational losses.

At 05:10 on April 2nd INDOMITABLE’s 4 night readiness Hellcats were launched by moonlight to do a pre-dawn sweep for prowling enemy aircraft, 2 were allocated to Ishigaki, the other pair were destined for Miyako but returned to the ship with radio failures. The remaining two pressed on only to find no targets. A Fighter Ramrod of 17 Corsairs and Hellcats left at 06:30 to attack all the airfields; one Zeke was found over Ishigaki and was shot down by Hellcats; 2 aircraft were claimed destroyed on the ground. The Ramrod was recovered by 10:45 and the Fleet withdrew to proceed to fuelling area MIDGE One, maintaining a Fleet CAP of 12 aircraft until dark.

The Fleet had lost 4 aircraft 1 Avenger, 1 Corsair and its pilot, and 1 Hellcat and its pilot as operational losses. 1 Corsair was lost due to an accident.

Hirara airfield on Miyako Jima, its runways receiving their daily bombing strikes which leave them cratered and unserviceable.

Replenishment period 3, April 3 - 5: There was no sign of the LSG at first light on April 3rd, bad weather hampered the rendezvous which was not made until 12:30. Between the 3rd and the 5th of April, Task Force 57 took on fuel and stores. For this replenishment period there CVEs SPEAKER with 1840 squadron Hellcats embarked provided CAP for the Fleet Train while SLINGER provided replacement aircraft and aircrews. SLINGER issued 22 replacement aircraft to the fleet carriers and recovered 2 ‘flyable duds'. The fleet repositioned overnight on the 4th to replenishment area MOSQUITO One and refuelling resumed at 06:30; they disengaged at 19:30 and sailed for the operational area.

Iceberg strike series 3, April 6 - 7: TF57 resumed Strikes on the morning of April 6th. First launch was at 04:50 when four Hellcats were flown- off INDOMITABLE, two each to Miyako and Ishigaki airfields to attack any enemy aircraft taking off at dawn; 8 aircraft not previously noticed at Ishigaki were attacked. At 06:35 TCAPs to cover both islands were launched. The craters in the runway at Miyako airfield were observed to be filled in. Despite worsening weather conditions Avengers bombed and hit Hirara runway and town, and bombed Nobara, Sukhama and Myara airstrips causing fires. Fighters attacked radio and radar stations, sank two junks and blew up a bowser. At 12:30 One of 1844 squadron Hellcats returning from Miyako attacked and shot down a P1Y ‘Frances’ into the sea in flames. During an enemy attack at about 17:00 four bogeys were engaged and one dived on ILLUSTRIOUS, which took radical avoiding action. The Kamikaze’s wingtip hit the island, spinning the aircraft into the sea where the bomb exploded. Only slight damage and no casualties were caused. Hellcats from 1844 shot down 2 attackers; a D4Y ‘Judy’ which exploded on hitting the sea at 17:30, this kill was shared by a CAP Corsair from ILLUSTRIOUS; 1833 Sqn, JT546 flown by Sub-Lt G. S. P. Salmon, RNVR, and a second at 17:45.

The Fleet had lost 5 aircraft 1 Seafire to ‘friendly fire’ and 3 Avengers – 2 to bomb blast damage and 1 ditched on take-off, 1 Seafire due to accident. Enemy aircraft losses were 6 destroyed and 6 damaged, plus 2 junks were sunk.

The planned programme for April 7th was changed after receipt of intelligence indicating a possible mass attack by enemy forces, a planned bombardment was cancelled and the focus remained on maintaining a constant TCAP over the enemy airfields to deny the Japanese the use of their aircraft. CAPs for the fleet and the Islands were launched at 06:10. Again it was observed that bomb craters on Ishigaki had been filled in, and that Hirara and Nobara airfields appeared serviceable. Three bomber strikes were launched during the day to re-crater these fields. At 19:30 the fleet withdrew for their third replenishment period having successfully disabled all the target airfields. The Fleet had lost 7 aircraft, 3 Corsair and 3 pilots in action and another 4 aircraft from other causes. Enemy losses were 3 aircraft destroyed on the ground and 4 damaged, 4 fishing vessels and 3 luggers were damaged. Two of the Corsairs pilots killed were from 15 Wings 1833 Sqn; Lt. A. H. Churchill, RNZNVR in JT641 (134/Q') was hit by flack on an airfield attack and crashed into the sea, Sub-Lt H. Marritt, RNVR in JT546 was also hit by flack on an airfield attack and crashed in flames.

Replenishment period 4, April 8 - 9: At 06:00 on the 8th TF57 met the LSG in replenishment area COOTIE One, U.S. Task Group 52.1 having taken over the strike duty. SPEAKER’s 1840 squadron again provided CAP for the Fleet Train while STRIKER provided replacement aircraft and aircrews. STRIKER issued 13 replacement aircraft and recovered 4 flyable but unserviceable aircraft and provided one Avenger crew to 854 squadron. On the 8th one of the replacement aircraft, Avenger JZ128 intended for 854 Sqn, suffered engine failure on take-off from STRIKER, and ditched, the pilot Sub-Lt A. H. Reynolds, RNZNVR was rescued OK. Replenishment was completed by the afternoon of the 9th and TF 57 left COOTIE One to return to Sakishima.

The strike programme called for further attacks on the 10th and 11th before returning to Leyte on completion; this was changed when Admiral Spruance commanding the U.S. 5th Fleet, requested that TF57 instead strike airfields in Northern Formosa. The U.S. had been hard hit by kamikaze attacks originating from Shinchiku and Matsuyama airfields on Formosa; American carriers had wooden flight decks and a kamikaze hit could, and did, cause very serious damage, the British carriers all had armoured flight decks and so the risks of serious damage was far less. Admiral Rawlings agreed to the new tasking and the two strike days for Sakishima were cancelled and TF57 made for Formosa to conduct Operation ICEBERG OOLONG.

Iceberg strike series 4, April 10 - 13: ICEBERG OOLONG called for strikes on Shinchiku and Matsuyama airfields on Formosa on April 11th & 12th. The Fleet arrived in the flying-off position 30 miles South-West from Yonakumi Shima at 06:00 on the 11th but weather conditions were unfavourable and the strike was postponed for 24 hours. The next day a CAP of 16 Seafires was flown off at 06:15 and at 07:04 one flight of 4 from 887 squadron had an encounter with 3 eastbound ‘Zeke’ and a single ‘Tony’, one ‘Zeke’ was shot down and another damaged, the other two aircraft escaped. Two strikes, each of 24 Avengers and 20 escorting Hellcat and Corsairs, were flown off at 07:15. One strike bombed Shinchiku airfields with delay fused bombs and attacked dispersals. There was flak but no airborne opposition. Due to cloud conditions over Matsuyama airfield the other strike attacked -their alternative target Kiirun harbour where hits were observed on the chemical plant, dock area and shipping. One flight investigated Matsuama and found little activity. A nearby railway station and factory were attacked and one DC-2 ‘Tess’ was destroyed on the ground. A bridge over the river south of Matsuama was destroyed and shipping at Tansui shot up. Enemy air attacks were successfully beaten off by Hellcats and Corsairs, The Seafire CAP did not engage.

At the end of the days strike a total of 17 enemy aircraft had been destroyed, TF57 lost 4 aircraft and 5 aircrew. One Corsair and its pilot from 15 Wing was lost, Sub-Lt A. T. Millard, RNVR (1830 Sqn) was reported missing, presumed killed after he was forced to ditch after his aircraft, JT523 (‘I 17/Q’) developed engine trouble approaching the North Formosa coast, he was sighted in the water with his Mae West inflated by was never found. Two pilots engaged a number of Ki21 ‘Sally’ bombers in an attack on Yonakuni Shima between 10:00 and 12:00; Lt D. F. Hadman, RNVR (1833 Sqn) in JT531 ('140/Q') shot down one on fire and damaged another and Lt D. H. Pawson, RCNVR (1830) in JT536 ('121/Q') shot down one on fire and damaged another. There was one deck crash; Sub-Lt J. W. Maybank, RNZNVR (1830 Sqn) in JT443 (' 112/Q') hit the S4 pom-porn with his Starboard wing.

C. April 12th 1945: Lieutenant P. S. Cole DSC, RN, enters the barrier on his return from strafing airfields in Formosa during operation ICEBERG OOLONG. © IWM A 29272

A second round of strikes was planned for the 13th; at 05:50 four Hellcats were flown off, shortly after a raid was made by four D3A ‘Val’ bombers, one bomb narrowly missing INDOMITABLE. One was destroyed by gunfire from the fleet; a second was chased by the Hellcats and was probably hit. One Hellcat, JX814 ('132/W'), of 1844 was hit by friendly-fire while chasing an enemy through the gunnery barrage, the pilot, Lt C.R. Thurstan RCNVR was killed. A second formation was detected an hour later; Corsairs from 1830 Squadron destroyed two A6M ‘Zekc' one by Sub-Lt J. Baldwin, RNVR flying in JT527 ('124/Q') was shot down into the sea engine on fire near the Fleet 06:30-07:00 and a second by Sub-Lt G. S. P. Salmon, RNVR, in an unidentified Corsair, also shot down into the sea engine on fire at 07:15.. The first Seafire CAP flights launched at 06:15. At 06:45 Avenger strikes were flown off to attack Matsuyama and Shinchiku airfields. The weather over Matsuyama was fair, runways, barracks and dispersal points were successfully bombed, and a petrol or ammunition dump blown up. Few aircraft were seen on the airfield. Fighters shot up about 12 aircraft on Giran airfield without apparent result. The other Avenger force bombed Shinchiku airfield through low cloud, hitting runway intersections and installations. No aircraft were lost in either of these strikes and there was no airborne opposition. At 13:00 CAP Hellcats intercepted 3 Zekes about 40 miles north of the Fleet but were unable to close within firing range. CAP Corsairs intercepted a Ki-46 ‘Dinah’ escorted by several ‘Tojos’, all the enemy aircraft escaped into cloud. After the bomber strikes were recovered the Fleet disengaged to the south eastward to refuel. Enemy losses were light, only 3 shot down with 5 destroyed on the ground (earlier claims of 12 turned out to be mainly dummies); TF57 lost 1 aircraftr a Hellcat to friendly-fire.

Replenishment period 5, April 14 - 15: At 05:30 on April 14th the LSG rendezvoused with TF 57 in replenishment area Cootie (1) at 21°12' N 128°44'. E. The Tanker Group consisted of ARNDALE, AASE MAERSK, CEDARDALE, SAN AMBROSIO, SAN ADOLPHO and WAVE KING. The escort carrier SPEAKER provided CAP aircraft over the replenishment area. The Fleet Carrier FORMIDABLE, with destroyers KEMPENFELT and WESSEX were waiting and joined Task Force 57 relieving ILLUSTRIOUS which sailed for Leyte at 17:55 screened by URANIA and QUALITY.


ILLUSTRIOUS withdrawn from active duty

On arrival at Leyte the carrier was to undergo an underwater examination to assess the extent of the damage to her hull. It proved to be more severe than first thought; a significant area had been depressed by concussion and several plates and frames cracked. She was now out of the action, her best speed now reduced to 19 knots and would need a major dockyard refit to conduct the repairs. Once the decision had been taken to send her back to Australia her spares and stores were scavenged and distributed among the other four carriers.

ILLUSTRIOUS arrived at Manus on May 8th, resuming her passage to Sydney the following day. Arriving off Sydney on May 14th all three squadrons were flown ashore, the Corsairs to RNAS Bankstown, the Avengers to RNAS Nowra. All aircraft were withdrawn and the 1830 and 1833 squadron aircrew re-joined the ship as she prepared to return to the UK.


Squadron Disbanded

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS arrived at Rosyth on July 27th to enter the dockyard and both 1830 and 1833 squadrons were officially disbanded on the 28th.

Plans were outlined to re-equip 1830 with Corsairs and return to the Pacific as part of a spare Illustrious-class 6th Carrier Air Group (882 and 1830 Corsair and 853 Avenger squadrons) this was cancelled after VJ-Day.




Content revised: 25 December 2023


Primary information sources

Additional sources:





Approved 1944

 Motto: Force on




Battle Honours





Aircraft Types

Corsair Mk. I Jun -Aug 1943

Corsair Mk. II Aug 43-May 45


Commanding Officers

Lt. Cdr D. B. M Fiddes DSO RN 1 Jun 1943

Lt. Cdr (A) A. M. Tritton DSC RNVR 18 Dec 1943

Squadron disbanded 28 Jul 1945















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