A history of 851 Naval Air Squadron


Formation and work-up

The Squadron was formed in the United Sates on on October 1st 1943  at the US Naval Air Station Squantum, Massachusetts under the command of Lt Cdr (A) (P) A. M. Tuke, DSC, RN . The squadron was issued with twelve Tarpon Is.[1] The flying personnel were organised to form thirteen crews, twelve being assigned their own aircraft with one a spare crew.

The Grumman Avenger Mk.1 - known as the 'Tarpon' in the RN - as issued to 851 squadron at Squantum. © IWM A 19796

Few of the squadron officers had previous squadron experience, the others were pilots who had just completed their training with the US Navy at Pensacola and Fort Lauderdale, and observers who had recently finished their training at RNAS Piarco, Trinidad. The squadron complement also included 13 Telegraphist-Air-Gunners and a ground staff of 107 Petty Officers and ratings.

After familiarisation with the aircraft and equipment the squadron began training in earnest to prepare for active service. The 12-week work-up period embraced all the many aspects of the work of torpedo bomber reconnaissance squadrons and included navigation exercises, low flying, formation flying and combat tactics, torpedo and depth charge attack techniques.

On December 14th the squadron flew to US naval air station Norfolk, Virginia for a short period of deck landing training (DLT) flying out to operate with the training carrier USS CHARGER in Chesapeake Bay. ON completion on the 16th, they returned to USNAS Squantum.

Flight to San Francisco

At the end of the work-up the squadron prepared for a cross-country trip, Squantum to San Francisco, California in preparation for embarking on an Escort Carrier. The aircraft flew to San Francisco following the normal aircraft ferry route, which was south to the Mexican border, through the Rocky Mountains and then up the west coast.

A ground party travelled by train with the squadron stores. The flight to San Francisco started on January 2nd 1944 and was done in several legs; Squantum, Massachusetts to Lynchburg, Virginia; Lynchburg to Shreveport, Louisiana; Shreveport to El Paso, Texas; El Paso to Tucson, Arizona. Tucson to San Francisco.


Joining HMS SHAH

The squadron had flown across the USA to join the new escort carrier HMS SHAH at San Francisco. The ship had departed from Esquimalt, British Colombia on January 2nd 1944 having been modified to RN standards in Canada in preparation for Admiralty service and she arrived in San Francisco Bay on January 7th.

After receiving repairs and installation of new equipment at the US Naval Dockyard, Mare Island SHAH moved to a berth at US Naval Air Station Alameda on January 11th. Here she embarked additional equipment and more stores and prepare to embark 851 squadron. The squadron arrived at US Naval Air Station Alameda on January 14th, their aircraft were hoisted onboard later that day and were stowed in the hangar; there would not be flying carried out until the ship arrived on station in Ceylon. SHAH was one of only a handful of escort carriers that were to be pressed into active service before making a voyage to the UK; she was allocated to the 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron with the East Indies Fleet as an anti-submarine carrier and her maiden voyage would be a ferry trip to India. In addition to the Avengers of 851 squadron she was to embark a ferry load of 32 Wildcats and 22 Curtiss P-40 Warhawks as deck cargo for delivery to Cochin, Southern India.

SHAH sailed from San Francisco in the afternoon of January 15th bound for India via Australia. After making a brief call at Melbourne she sailed for Cochin, Southern India, via Fremantle, departing Melbourne on February 8th. SHAH arrived at Cochin at 10:00 on February 23rd and, once alongside disembarked her ferry load to Royal Naval Air Station Cochin; 851 squadron was also put ashore.

 The squadron was to remain ashore until March 6th before re-joining the ship to begin her flying working up; this was the first opportunity for flying operations to be carried out and the ship’s air department and flight deck parties were put through their paces. SHAH remained operating out of Cochin until March 18th, before sailing for Colombo. On completion of the work-up 851 Sqn was flown off to RNAS Colombo Racecourse, Ceylon one March 21st, SHAH continued on to make port at Trincomalee. Aircraft would be re-embarked as required when the ship put to sea for further training.

Left: Avenger JZ138 (' lL') is prepared for descent into the hanger for repair - the aircraft, piloted by S/Lt. JGV Burns, successfully caught an arrest or wire which carrying out Deck Landing Training on February 3rd 1945, but the prop entered barrier. Right: A Mk XI aerial depth charge being loaded onto an 851 squadron Avenger on board the escort carrier HMS SHAH © IWM (A 27853)

The squadron moved to RNAS Katukurunda, 37 miles south on the west coast of Ceylon on April 1st to continue training. On arrival there a fighter flight of 4 Wildcats was formed and the squadron became a composite anti-submarine (A/S) sweeps unit.


The squadron next embarked in SHAH on April 13th to continue with her flying work-up. This was to be 4 weeks of flying training afloat, ending on June 16thwhen the ship was ordered to begin A/S sweeps. The squadron’s first recorded flying accidents occurred during this work-up; On the 14th Avenger FN913 (IL') was lost during a night A/S exercise, after dropping flares the aircraft climbed steeply, stalled over into the sea and caught fire, 11m off the West coast of Ceylon; the crew, Pilot Sub-Lt C. S. MacWhirter SANF(V), Overseer Lt J. P. C. Alcazar RNVR and Leading Airman C. D. Airey wer all killed. On May 18th Avenger JV513 ('Y'), piloted by Lt R. I. Spiers RNZNVR landed with the arrester hook up and entered the barrier.


Offensive operations: Anti-submarine sweeps in the Indian Ocean

SHAH sailed on her first A/S patrol in the Indian Ocean, east of Trincomalee on June 17trh. The patrol was uneventful, 851 suffered two Eck landing accident s; on the 18th Sub-Lt F. Scudder RNVR struck the rounddown landing in Avenger JZI08 (' IR’) knocking the tail wheel off. On the 25th Avenger JZ122 (' IG') ditched while attempting a slow and high approach to the deck, the pilot Sub-Lt F. Scudder & crew were OK.

On completion of this sweep SHAH preceded to Colombo, arriving there on June 30th; after a short turnaround she put back to sea on July 5th for trade protection sweeps between Colombo and Cochin. During this sweep 851 Squadron lost two aircraft; on the 21st JZ1I6 ('IA') piloted by the squadron commanding officer Lt. Cdr A. M. Tuke, DSC ditched after engine trouble, his crew were rescued by a native fishing boat and later transferred to an RAF rescue launch. On the 28th a serious crash occurred when Avenger JZ119 ('IP’) stalled turning to go around again after being waved off by the Deck Landing Control officer (DLCO) and crashed onto the quarterdeck. The petrol tanks exploded on impact killing the observer Sub Lt J. H. W. Calder RNVR, the pilot Sub Lt R. A. McCartney RNZNVR and the Telegraphist Air Gunner Leading Airman A. Kane escaped.

 At the end of July SHAH  was allocated to join Task Force 66, a trade protection force for operations in the northern Indian Ocean. TF66 comprised of two escort carriers, SHAH  and BEGUM, Frigates TAFF (Senior Officer of the 60th Escort Group), NADDER, INVER, LOSSIE and PARRET, Indian Sloops GODAVERI, and CAUVERY.

 She sailed for her third sweep on August 6th with elements of TF66 to search for a U-Boat that had been attacking shipping of the East African coast. U-198 had attacked and sank the MV EMPIRE CITY east of Mocimboa, Portuguese East Africa in the early hours of August 6th and the MV EMPIRE DAY the next day about 200 miles east of Dar es Salaam and was the main target for this A/S sweep. A D/F fix obtained on the evening of the 8th caused the air searches by Force 66 arranged for the 10th to be moved 150 miles to the south. At first light on the 10th SHAH , the duty carrier, flew off a pair of Avengers to carry out a “Creeping Adder” patrol. [2] One of the aircraft JZ123 ('1H') stalled on take-off and crashed into the sea, Sub-Lt J. I. Delany RNZNVR and his crew were rescued by HMIS Cauvery.

 The searches continued throughout the day until 13:55 when the 851 Squadron, CO Lt. Cdr A. M. Tuke, DSC flying in Avenger JZ140 (' IA') spotted a U-boat on the surface bearing 306º at 65 miles from the carriers. A brief signal was made reporting the course and speed but the U-boat had spotted the Avenger and was already crash diving. Lt. Cdr Tuke immediately began an attack run, diving from 1,200 feet to 30 feet and arriving over the swirl left by the diving U-boat about 40 seconds after it had disappeared. This was too late for an accurate attack, but on attempting to drop two depth-charges they failed to release; going round again he aimed at a position estimated about 800 yards ahead of the swirl and this time released his depth charges however no results were observed.

 By 16:15 the frigates NADDER, TAFF and FINDHORN arrived in the area to begin a search but the U-Boat had slipped away to the North. Several reports received during the night of 10th/11th did little to help locate the U-Boat’s course, searches on the 11th to the northward had come up empty so the Senior Officer Force 66 concluded that the U-boat was proceeding more to the east and the frigates were eventually recalled. The whole Force altered course to east-north-east, and continued air searches in that direction until after dark.

 Based on the available evidence and best guesses, S.O Force 66 surmised that at first light on the 12th U-boat would be 50 miles ahead of the carriers; in the early hours of August 121th SHAH  launched 6 Avengers from 851 Squadron to sweep an area out to 140 miles ahead of the carriers and 65 miles either side of the MLA.

 Twenty minutes later Lt. Cdr Tuke (again flying JZ140 (' IA')) sighted the U-boat - he had already made the crucial sighting on the 10th - she was fully surfaced and travelling at high speed on a course of 020º in a position about 53 miles 110° from the centre of the extended screen formed by the frigates, which at once closed at full speed. SHAH ’s Avengers were again spotted by the U-Boast lookouts and began to crash dive as they broke from the clouds to begin an attack run. Lt. Cdr Tuke was close enough to make an attack while the U-boat’s periscope was still visible from just abaft her port beam. The result was a perfect straddle with the two depth-charges he carried, both exploding either side of the conning-tower, which was clearly seen below the surface as the aircraft passed overhead at 180 knots and a height of 30 feet. The attack had damaged the U-boat, being a lone aircraft and only carrying 2 depth charges he could only circle the area and observe; about 30 seconds later the U-boat re-surfaced, stern first and at 90º to its original course.

 She remained stationary for 4 minutes with the stern underwater and the bow just clear of the surface before gearing underway turning a complete circle before zig-zagging on a rough heading of 020-040º at about 6-8 knots. The U-boat’s crew then manned their A/A guns and opened fire on the Avenger, Lt. Cdr Tuke and his crew replied with machine gun fire the aircraft’s wing and turret guns. This exchange of gun fire lasted for about 25 minutes, neither side appears to have scored any hits. U-198 submerged again 07:26 heading 040°, presumably emergency repairs had been underway during the exchange of fire. Shortly after the first of the other Avengers on the search arrived at the scene.

 The Avenger that had been to the left of Tuke’s aircraft (second from the left of the anti-U-boat sweep, and it had turned towards the action as soon as they heard Tuke’s initial sighting report. A closer aircraft, that on the leg to the right of Tuke’s search, however, failed to receive either Tuke’s sighting report or the re-broadcast message made by SHAH . Had this aircraft responded could have arrived on scene the while damaged U-boat was still on the surface and possibly have made a second, lethal, attack. Both carriers had scrambled additional strike aircraft but all arrived too late to attack the U-boat. The two Avengers on scene guided the frigates to the position and at about 06:30 they began to hunt for U198.

 At about 10:00 the Frigate FAIAIOUTH" and Corvette GENISTA joined the carriers releasing the Sloops CAUVERY and GODAVARI which detached to join the frigates. At 13:23 GODAVARI obtained contact with the U-boat and held it for 53 minutes until the other ships could close. FINDHORN then carried out a hedgehog attack which apparently caught the U-boat captain entirely unawares, for he took no avoiding action. Two hits were obtained. Two minutes later a small explosion was heard on GODAVARI’s asdic followed three minutes later by a much heavier one. Finally, two more small explosions were heard and U-198 was deemed as destroyed in position 03°35'S 52°49'E, NW of the Seychelles. On their return to the ship Avenger JZ212 ('1G') piloted by Sub-Lt J. A. Eedle RNVR caught No.7 wire and entered the into barrier. This action resulted in Lt. Cdr A. M. Tuke being awarded a bar to his DSC, his Observer Lt. S. S. Laurie RNVR & Air Gunner CPO F. R. Brown received Mentioned in Despatches.


Return to routine A/S sweeps in the Indian Ocean and Arabian sea

Following the conclusion of the hunt for U-198 the Force proceeded to Kilindini, Kenya arriving on August 18th to fuel and store ship in preparation for continuing anti-submarine operations covering convoys between Kilindini and Aden. SHAH  sailed on the 27th; on the same date Sub-Lt J. l. Delany RNZNVR had a barrier crash landing in Avenger FN926 ('1H'), the aircraft ended on its nose.

The wreckage resulting from Avenger JZ121 (' IF') bouncing over the barriers and hitting the tail of Avenger JZ234 in the forward aircraft park on SHAH, January 13th 1945. The pilot, Sub-Lt C. R. I. Whitehead was OK.

After a short stay at Aden SHAH  made the return voyage to Kilindini departing Aden on September 15th. Upon arriving at Kilindini ten of 851 squadron's aircraft were disembarked to operate ashore at R.N. Air Sect. Port Reitz on September 21st. Here a new commanding officer arrived, Lt Cdr (A) (P) M. T. Fuller, DSC, RNVR relieving Lt Cdr Tuke.

The ship remained at Kilindini until putting to sea to re-embark the detachment on October 5th before sailing for Cochin, continuing anti-submarine operations in the Indian Ocean on passage. While embarking the new CO narrowly avoid a barrier crash as he caught no.7 arrester wire in JZ140 ' IA'); the only other incident was on the 9th when Sub-Lt F. Scudder RNVR in JZ211 hooked a late wire and the prop contacted the barrier.

On reaching the west coast of Ceylon the squadron was flown ashore to RNAS Ratmalana on October 19th; it is not clear what duties took the ship to Cochin but SHAH did not return to Colombo until November 26th. The squadron continued training ashore, moving to RAF Vavuniya on November 18th and then on to RAF Minnerriya on November 20th. They made a further move to RNAS Colombo Racecourse on December 19th. There is one recorded flying accident during this period; virile on a training flight from RNAS Katukurunda an Avenger, JZ 117 ('IB'), was climbing away after take-off when the aircraft in front dropped a flare. Dazzled, the pilot Sub-Lt W. R. P. Bowden RNVR, lost control and the aircraft spun into the ground 1 mile from the end of the runway. The impact killed the Observer Sub-Lt A. L. Yms RNVR and injured Sub-Lt Bowden and the Air Gunner.

The squadron re-embark on January 10th 1945 when SHAH proceeded to Trincomalee. Flying practice was carried out on passage and three Avengers were damaged in two landing accidents, both involving aircraft piloted by Sub- Lt C. R. I Whitehead RNVR; on the 12th landing in JZ208 ('1G'') he caught No.6 wire and hit No.2 barrier, the next day landing in JZ121 (' IF') the aircraft bounced into the barrier on landing and hit tail of JZ234 parked forward, the wreckage of JZ234 was later disembarked to RNAS Trincomalee and written off. 851 Sqn flew ashore to RNAS Trincomalee on January 23rd to regroup in preparation for a further period of A/S sweeps in February. SHAH put to sea for a DLT session for squadron pilots on the 3rd, during this session Sub-Lt J. G. V. Burns RNVR in Avenger JZ138 caught a late wire and the prop entered the barrier.

South Africa: February -April 1945

 851 squadron re-embarked in SHAH on February 8th 1945 and the ship sailed for Durban, South Africa, conducting trade protection operations between Trincomalee and Diego Suarez before continuing on to Durban for a refit. During the voyage there was one further flying accident, Sub-Lt Burns had a second barrier crash in Avenger JZ138 on the 17th. On arrival off Durban, on February 23rd, 851 disembarked to RN Air Sect. Stamford Hill and SHAH was taken in hand by the dockyard.

 While ashore the Wildcat flight was withdrawn. They were the first unit to operate the Avenger from the South African Air Force grass airfield outside Durban, and flight operations could be tricky after any rainfall, however there are no recorded flying incidents for the six weeks spent on the station. The Avengers re-embarked on April 5th to begin the ship’s post refit shakedown. On completion of her shakedown SHAH sailed for Kilindini on the 8th. After a three day stop at Kilindini, during which time four Avengers operated ashore at RN Air Sect. Port Reitz. [3] SHAH proceeded to Trincomalee via Colombo to prepare for her next assignment.

Operation BISHOP: April 27th -May 7th 19455

 On April 25th the Avengers were joined by a detachment of four Hellcats from 804 squadron which embarked from HMS EMPRESS, also embarking on that day were the 6 photo reconnaissance Hellcats of 888 squadron in preparation for a strike on the Nicobar and Andaman Islands, codenamed Operation BISHOP.

 SHAH was allocated to Force 63 which sailed on April 27th; this comprised of the Battleship QUEEN ELIZABETH (Flag of Vice Admiral Walker), cruisers RICHELIEU, CUMBERLAND (flag of CS 5), SUFFOLK, CEYLON and TROMP, CVEs EMPRESS (20 Hellcats of 804 Sqn) and SHAH (l0 Avengers of 851 Sqn, 4 Hellcats of 804 Sqn, 6 PR Hellcats of 888 Sqn), destroyers ROTHERHAM, TARTAR, VERULAM, NUBIAN and PENN. Logistic support was provided by Force 69, the RFA oiler OLWEN escorted by PALADIN to provide refuelling at sea.

 On April 30th Force 63 carried out a dawn bombardment and Hellcat strikes on both airfields at Car Nicobar, the largest of the Nicobar Islands. That evening strikes were made against targets at Port Blair before returning to repeat the Car Nicobar bombardment. Malacca was attacked on May 1st and Port Blair again on the 2nd.

 On the 3rd the force separated into two groups, RICHELIEU, SUFFOLK, and destroyers NUBIAN, ROTHERHAM, and VERULAM proceeded to their covering position for operation DRACULA in the North Andaman Sea while TROMP, CEYLON, and CUMBERLAND, with CVEs SHAH and EMPRESS with destroyers TARTAR and PENN were despatched to make an armed reconnaissance of the coastal shipping between Mergui and Victoria Point. The results were an 80-ton coaster driven ashore in the Tavoy River. The following day May aircraft strafed Mergui and Victoria Point airfields. QUEEN ELIZABETH carried out a bombardment of a 6-inch gun position at Stewart Sound in the afternoon, four hits being observed in the gun pit; aircraft from both carriers attacked shipping in Port Blair harbour, two 100 feet ships, one tug, one junk, and a jetty were set on fire. The operation concluded on May 7th with a final strike on Car Nicobar airfield; during the 12 days of the operation only one aircraft was lost, Sub Lt (A) JA Scott RNVR of 804 Sqn was killed when his Hellcat JX803 ditched off EMPRESS’ port bow having succumbed to damage from enemy AA fire on Sunday May 6th, there was no enemy opposition from the air.

 On May 8th all the ships in the force celebrated Victory in Europe Day by "Splicing the Main brace", the issue of an extra tot of rum, and holding services of thanksgiving. The task force arrived back at Trincomalee on the 9th and 888 squadron disembarked to RNAS Colombo Racecourse, while the detachment from 804 returned to EMPRESS. The celebrations which continued ashore in Trincomalee were curtailed by the news that the Japanese cruiser HAGURO, one of the last surviving major Japanese warships, with the destroyer KAMIKAZE, were attempting to evacuate troops from the Nicobar and Andaman Islands to Singapore. A sighting by the submarine SUBTLE had reported a cruiser and destroyer to the north of the Malacca Strait and based on this intelligence the fleet was ordered to prepare for sea to intercept them.

Operation "DUKEDOM": Sinking of the HAGURO -May 10th -16th 1945

 The men of the East Indies Fleet were celebrating victory in Europe when the news that the Japanese cruiser HAGURO, one of the last surviving major Japanese warships, escorted by the destroyer KAMIKAZE, were attempting to evacuate troops from the Nicobar and Andaman Islands to Singapore. At 22:30 on May 9th the submarines STATESMAN and SUBTLE, two of three submarines on patrol in the Malacca Straits, both reported sighting one Japanese cruiser of the NACHI class, with single destroyer escort proceeding north westward. Based on this intelligence the ships of the Third Battle Squadron and all available ships of the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron were ordered to prepare to put to sea to intercept them.

 A hastily constituted Force 61, sailed at 06:00 on the morning of May 10th; group two departed first and comprised of the ships of the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron ROYALIST (Flag AC21), EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE, SHAH escorted by destroyers ROTHERHAM (D 11, NUBIAN and PENN. Group one, comprising of the battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH (Flag BS3), HMNLS TROMP and the destroyer TARTAR (D10), sailed next. The third and final group comprised of CUMBERLAND (Flag CS5), Free French RICHELIEU, and elements of the 26th Destroyer Flotilla SAUMAREZ (D26), VENUS, VIGILANT, VIRAGO, and VERULAM. Force 70, an oiling force consisting of PALADIN and RFA EASEDALE, sailed from Trincomalee on the same day.

 Force 61 was tasked with carrying out two overlapping operations; Operation MITRE, an air and sea sweep of the Malacca Strait and south Andaman Sea for Japanese auxiliary vessels and DUKEDOM, an air and sea sweep to hunt for the HAGURO. The Force set course for the 10 Degree Channel at 16 knots where it was hoped to intercept the cruiser as she headed north on the 12th. The HAGURO had left Singapore, escorted by the destroyer KAMIKAZE, to re-supply the Port Blair garrison on the Andaman Islands and to evacuate the troops in Port Blair back to Singapore. However Japanese intelligence had learned that that the Royal Navy was at sea, and the two ships returned to Singapore; on May 14th the HAGUROO and KAMIKAZE tried again and left Singapore.

 At 05:00 on the 11th SHAH had to slow down due to what was believed to be fuel contamination, NUBIAN was detailed to stand by her. Later in the morning further difficulties arose due to the lack of wind which required the carriers to constantly change course to operate their aircraft. SHAH had sailed with a defective accelerator and this was still unserviceable when she re-joined the main force. This meant that she could still not launch a fully loaded Avenger and a reshuffle of resources was ordered by Vice Admiral Walker; at 14:30. SHAH should attempt to fly off 851 squadron’s Avengers, carrying minimum fuel and no armaments, to operate from EMPEROR while eight Hellcats from 800 squadron were transferred from EMPEROR to SHAH to join the detachment of four 804 squadron Hellcats already embarked. During this transfer process one of the 800 Squadron Hellcats had a deck landing accident that was to cause damage to 6 aircraft; the arrestor hook of JX797 had caught on the metal frame of the after lift and the hook pulled out, the aircraft careered through both barriers into Hellcats JV260, JV322, JW777, JW886 & JW890 parked forward. The pilot Sub-Lt T. G Davie RNVRs was OK. By 16:00 hours the transfers were complete and Force 61 resumed their south easterly course. By this time the force had been detected by a Japanese plane and their position reported.

 By 16:00 hours the transfers were complete and Force 61 resumed their south easterly course. By this time the force had been detected by a Japanese plane and their position reported. The delays encountered during the day meant the force would not reach the 10 Degree Channel in time and the Admiral ordered the force to split at 18:00, group 3, consisting of RICHELIEU, CUMBERLAND and the destroyers SAUMAREZ (D26), VENUS, VIGILANT, VIRAGO and VERULAM were detached to proceed ahead to the 6 Degree Channel in the hope of intercepting the Japanese Cruiser.

 On the morning of May 12th, it was reported that the enemy cruiser and destroyer were retiring south eastward – probably due to the sighting by Japanese aircraft of units of Force 61 to the westward of the Nicobars on the previous day. As a result of this information Force 61 proceeded to a position about 200 miles southwest of Achin Head, North Sumatra, and Force 70 was ordered to rendezvous for refuelling. It was hoped that if Japanese aircraft made no further sightings of the Force, the HAGURO might make a second attempt to reach Port Blair. At 15:00 Group 3 was ordered to return to the main Force and rendezvoused that evening.

Beginning at 06:00 on the 13th Force 61 commenced refuelling, the destroyers being oiled from the escort carriers. This operation was hampered by monsoon weather conditions and took most of the day. Intelligence was received in the morning that the Japanese were planning to launch Kamikaze attacks on the force so Admiral Walker decided to make a pre-emptive strike against Car Nicobar airfield. At 11:30 EMPEROR launched a strike force of four Hellcats to carry out a low-level strafing attack on Car Nicobar. One of the Hellcats had to abort the mission and was escorted back to EMPEROR by another one of the strike forces. The remaining two Hellcats carried out a successful strike destroying at least one aircraft on the ground. At 12:15 QUEEN ELIZABETH and other units of the Force picked up a radar contact, four Hellcats were flown off EMPEROR at 12:25 to investigate. Another four were ranged on deck at readiness. The interception was aborted almost straightaway and the flight was diverted to land on SHAH. During this incident the force had moved nearly 100 miles South from the position where the two returning Hellcats from the Car Nicobar strike expected them to be; on reaching the position they climbed to 12.000 feet and miraculously picked up EMPEROR’s Homing beacon at 85 miles. They landed on at 16:00.

After steaming northeast through the night, the Force passed through the 6 Degree Channel at 04:00 on the morning of the 14th. Having received no news of the HAGURO by 05:15 Admiral Walker gave orders for Group 3 to remain in the area of the 6 Degree Channel while Groups 1 and 2, led by the QUEEN ELIZABETH reversed course and steered southwest to return to the refuelling area southwest of Pulau Bunta to rendezvous with Force 70 at approximately 15:30 hours.

The search for the Japanese relief force, Force Two: Still without reports of the whereabouts of the HAGURO, but intelligence suggesting other shipping movements in a report of one small escorted transport heading South for Sabang expected to arrive on the 15th, Admiral Walker gave orders to implement Operation MITRE at 02:17 on the 15th; this was a specific operation to carry out an air and sea sweep of the Malacca Strait and south Andaman Sea for Japanese auxiliary vessels. The operation was to be jointly carried out by vessels of Walker's Force with RAF Liberators of 222 Group, however DUKEDOM had priority and MITRE could be cancelled at any time. The 26th Destroyer Flotilla, SAUMAREZ (D26), VENUS, VIGILANT, VIRAGO and VERULAM, was detached at 27 knots to lead the sweep, the remainder of the force following in support.

 The intelligence was referring to the Japanese relief force, Force Two, the KUROSHIYO MARU No 2 escorted by submarine chaser CH- 57 which had evacuated troops from Nancowry Island in the Nicobars and had been sighted by an RAF Liberator aircraft of 222 Group late in the evening of the 14th heading for Penang. Actually Naval intelligence was unaware that the HAGURO (Vice Admiral Hashimoto) and KAMIKAZE had been waiting off the Permatang Sedepa lighthouse, in position 2°53’ N, 100°59’ E, for news as to whether the British had sighted Force Two, which had sailed from Penang for Nancowry Island, where they arrived on May 13th. Believing the British had failed to detect Force Two Vice Admiral Hashimoto decided to make a dash for Port Blair, so the HAGURO and KAMIKAZE were on passage to Port Blair. However, for various reasons, this time Walker didn't get any sighting reports from the submarines stationed in the Malacca Strait.

 At 07:00 a second British force, Force 62 comprising the cruiser NIGERIA with the 11th Destroyer Flotilla, (ROEBUCK, RACEHORSE, ROCKET and REDOUBT) rendezvoused with Force 61, having sailed from Trincomalee on the 13th to reinforce Walker’s force. The combined Force then set course to support the Destroyers of Group 3. At 07:30 in approximate position 4°30’ N, 93°30’ E, EMPEROR catapult launched a reconnaissance/strike flight of four Avengers of 851 Sqn, each armed with four 500lb bombs, to search ahead of the force; the aircraft were given the call signs “Duty” Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog. Their instructions were to fly to a point, designated BB, which was in approximate position 6°20’’ N, 94°35’ E, then to diverge and fly a search pattern. The pilots had been briefed that on sighting the enemy convoy, (Force Two) they were to shadow and report.

 At 09:37 in approximate position 6°44’ N, 97°3’’ E, Avenger “Duty” Charlie (JZ137), piloted by Sub-Lt J. G. V. Burns, RNVR, sighted Force Two en route to Penang and made an immediate sighting report. He shadowed the ships until 09:50 expecting others in the flight to join him, when none had arrived, he decided to attack; being at the extreme edge of their search radius dropping the bombs would extend their time over the target. His first run was with two bombs, one failed to drop, the other missed. Burns then attacked again dropping a single bomb, but without success, and while climbing away from his second pass he was joined by “Duty” Baker (JZ103 'IB'), flown by Sub-Lt W. R. P. Bowden, RNVR which immediately attacked the Japanese force, missing with all four bombs. While diving on the KUROSHIYO MARU for their third run “Duty” Charlie was hit in the engine just as the bombs were released. The damage was severe but Sub-Lt Burns managed to pull up and turn onto a course for the fleet. Sub-Lt Bowden in “Duty” Baker formed up on Charlie as it began to lose height and prepared to ditch, which it did soon after. With some difficulty Sub-Lt Burn and his crew, Sub-Lt G. H. Robinson and Petty Officer Airman A. R. Murley, managed, to evacuate the aircraft and eventually to get into the life raft before their aircraft sank. “Duty” Baker reported the ditching and remained in the area, circling in the hope of pointing out the position to any rescuers, but none came before he had to head back to the ship.

At 10:04, almost exactly the time of “Duty” Charlie’s ditching, EMPEROR launched a further strike of four Avengers, with the call signs “Duty” Fox, George, Jig, and Hotel. The squadron C.O. Lt. Cdr M. T. Fuller RNVR was first to launch in “Duty” George, the next, “Duty” Hotel, reported his engine overheating while on the catapult but was launched to clear the deck and 10 minutes later landed on HUNTER. A fifth aircraft “Duty” King had been brought up from the hangar to replace Hotel. The report of “Duty” Charlie ditching had just reached ROYALIST and the Avengers were ordered to remain over Force 61 to await orders, due to communication problems only “Duty” Fox (Sub-Lt J. A. Eedle) received the order and remained circling for an hour and a half before jettisoning his bombs and returning to EMPEROR only to crash into the barrier on landing. [4] George, Jig and King continued on their search pattern, but were now looking for the life raft of Sub-Lt Burn and his crew.

The first of the early morning flight, “Duty” Dog (Sub-Lt Rowe-Evans, RNVR), landed on at 11;55, “Duty” Able JZ206 ‘IA’ (Lt K. Crompton, RNVR) had reached the position given by “Duty” Charlie but saw nothing and returned to the ship to land on at 12:15. On reaching the expected position of the carriers “Duty” Baker found there were no ships in sight; reversing course he attempted to contact the destroyers he had seen earlier but with no success. Eventually Avengers “Duty” Jig and King appeared and “Duty” Jig escorted him towards the fleet; after 4 hours and 50 minutes in the air “Duty” Baker ran out of fuel at 121:0 and ditched 30 miles from the the carriers, Sub-Lt Bowden, his Observer Sub-Lt S. A. Matthews RNVR and Petty Officer Airman T. G. H. Lough managed to exit the aircraft and retrieve their liferaft, they were later rescued by the 1700  squadron Walrus from HUNTER. [5] Despite efforts to locate them, the crew of “Duty” Charlie were not rescued, their raft eventually made landfall in Burma but they were later taken prisoner. There had been some confusion over the use of the word ‘Convoy’ used in the briefing; to these aircrew a convoy would be made up of many vessels, not two, Sub-Lt Bowden had actually seen Force Two five minutes before Sub-Lt Burns but discounted it and moved on.

  Just before ditching “Duty” Baker transmitted a fuller version of their earlier message of 10:03 giving the description of the ‘convoy’ as motor vessels not exceeding 2000 tons and their unsuccessful attack. This was received by Captain Powers in SAUMAREZ almost at the same time as another signal cancelling MITRE. Decisions were being made by the C-in-C in Colombo based on Naval intelligence reports and the cancel order was at odds with the intelligence just received. He decided to seek clarification and slowed his advance.

  By this time only “Duty” George was still conducting a search, Jig and King had loitered over a group of unidentified (British) destroyers for 35 minutes before giving up trying to identify them, and so wasted valuable fuel. They split when “Duty “Jig joined up with “Duty” Baker to escort him home. “Duty” King did not reach the position of “Duty” Charlie’s ditching and returned to the fleet short of fuel only to discover it had moved again. After conducting a square search for 15 minutes he picked up SHAH’s homing beacon and landed on her deck at 11:45 with 40 gallons of fuel still in the tank, approximately 17 minutes flying time.

  At 10:44 the squadron CO, Lt. Cdr Fuller, in in “Duty” George sighted and reported the Japanese Force Two. Shortly after sending off his sighting report a second force was sighted, two further ships about 15 miles ahead of Force Two; these turned out to be the HAGURO and KAMIKAZE. At 10:50 a second signal reporting enemy cruiser and destroyer in position 06°55’ N, 96°50’ E, and retiring south eastward. The HAGURO had been found almost by accident and the result of errors and failures in communication; while “Duty” George was aloft a revised search area had been calculated taking into account currents and wind over the time since the ditching and this was transmitted but not received by the four Avengers. So, Lt. Cdr Fuller and his crew were in the wrong place at the right time to stumble upon both targets. Sadly, they did not locate the life raft they were looking for, unknown to the crew they passed within 400 yards of them after dropping their bomb load to extend their time on station. “Duty” George remained shadowing the Cruiser until 12:50 when they made a final course and speed report before heading back.

 Air strike against the HAGURO: Following Lt. Cdr Fuller’s signals and updates a further strike force of three Avengers was ranged on deck, fuelled and armed by 13:50. These aircraft were given the call signs “Duty” Peter (flight leader, Lt Crompton), Queen (Sub-Lt Rowe-Evans) and Roger (Sub-Lt Eedle), all making their second sortie of the day. Their mission was to attack the HAGURO with 500lb bombs; ideally this should have been a torpedo attack but none of the Escort Carriers operating with the East Indies Fleet carried torpedoes. They were launched from a position 110 miles due west of Sabang and were to fly a dog-leg course to avoid the nearby enemy airfields.

  Lt. Cdr Fuller in “Duty” George arrived back at the estimated rendezvous point at 14:32, this was where the fleet was expected to be calculated using the MLA, (Mean Line of Advance) but no ships were sighted. Eleven minutes later he switched his I.F.F. to “Distress” mode and a course to steer was radioed to them, he was then joined by two Seafires from HUNTER’s CAP flight which escorted him back to EMPEROR; he landed on at 15:15 after 5 hours and 11 minutes in the air.

 Lt Crompton’s flight of three had reached the estimated position of HAGURO at 15:16, 16 minutes later than planned but she was not in sight, they then began a square-search with 15-mile legs. At 15:41 Lt Crompton sighted the Cruiser and her escort near the end of the third leg and began shadowing her until the other two re-joined. They attacked from astern starting their dive at 10,000 feet, Peter and Roger together, Queen a few seconds behind. Anti-aircraft fire was intense, on hit was scored on Peter’s wing and Queen was peppered with shrapnel splinters. All release their payloads; Peter and Roger pulled out at 3,000 feet and turned away at full speed, Queen continued on down to 300 feet and fled out to sea on the HAGURO’s starboard bow, reforming at 14:15 they set course for the fleet. They thought at least one of the 12 bombs hit and one a near-miss, but in reality, they all missed. All three arrived back at EMPEROR at 18:30 and landed on; Sub-Lt Eedle in “Duty” Queen (JZ233) misjudged his landing and made his second barrier crash of the day. “Duty” Peter, Queen, and Roger had completed a 530-mile round trip flight to strike the HAGURO, the longest attacking round trip flight of any Fleet Air Arm aircraft. They had accomplished the first and only Dive-bombing attack by 851 squadron; this was also the first such attack on a major warship since the sinking of the KONIGSBERG in April 1940

  Sinking of the HAGURO: To the surprise of the squadron aircrew no further strikes were ordered, possibly because the target was believed to have passed the maximum range for another strike. Instead, the chase was handed over to the 26th Destroyer Flotilla to engage the two ships. Captain Powers had been ordered to resume his original course at 27 Knots at 12:10 (then looking for Force Two), at 12:30 CUMBERLAND and RICHELIEU were ordered to re-join the destroyers, at best speed, to give them support. Captain Powers planned to make a night attack employing the single ship ‘Star-attack’ opening with a salvo of torpedoes. By the early hours of the 16th, they were in radar contact, and positioned ahead of the Japanese ships and closing the gap. At 00:50 the HAGURO detected the 26th Destroyer Flotilla in front of her at 17,500 yards; Captain Power’s trap had been spring. The HAGURO made an immediate turn to starboard and increased speed to 30 knots, heading North, away from Singapore for Penang, and the Destroyer attack began. The first torpedoes were fired by SAUMAREZ at 01:13 and the last were fired by VENUS at 02:02 and the HAGURO having been hit by six torpedoes and nearly an hour of gunfire from the 5 Destroyers, sank at 02:06 in position 4°49’ N, 99°42’ E.. The KAMIKAZE escaped to the west, returning later to pick up survivors. The only British vessel to suffer damage was the SAUMAREZ, she was hit in her No 1 Boiler Room by one of the HAGURO’s 5 inch shells, the shell only partially exploded but it killed two and put No 1 boiler out of action. Having fought the last major surface gun and torpedo action of World War II the flotilla formed up at 02:10 and steered north westerly to re-join the CUMBERLAND and RICHELIEU, still some 50 miles away.

 A Avenger of 851 squadron ready to be Catapulted from EMPEROR to bomb targets in the Nicobar Islands 1945. The Anti-Aircraft Cruiser HMS ROYALIST is in the background. Photo: Courtesy Roy McCully.

 Air strikes on the Andaman Islands: At 07;00 on the 16th EMPEROR launched 4 Hellcats, each armed with eight 60lb rockets, to search for and strike the KUROSHIYO MARU, and two Avengers to continue searching for the crew of “Duty” Charlie. A further 6 Hellcats from KHEDIVE's 808 squadron were launched to strike the airfield at Lhokseumawe in Northern Sumatra; two turned back with radio failure while the remaining four strafed the airfield damaging one fighter on the ground and a nearby locomotive. From 08:00 the fleet came under almost constant air attack and HUNTER’s Seafire CAP aircraft were kept busy chasing down radar contacts; while none were shot down, at least four Ki-43 ‘Oscars’ were believed to have been damaged in aerial combat. The searches for both the KUROSHIYO MARU and the life raft came up empty and the aircraft returned safely. At 17:25 two A6M3 ‘Haps’ were caught off guard by a flight of four Hellcats from 800 squadron led by Lt de Witt but managed to escape into cloud cover. The last attack of the day came at dusk when HUNTER was about to refuel VIRAGO, the operation had been aborted when the Destroyer came under attack by a single ‘Oscar’. Heavy anti-aircraft fire from VIRAGO and HUNTER seemed to deter the Japanese pilot who released his fragmentation bomb and veered away. The bomb fell into the sea 30 yards off VIRAGOs port quarter and the shrapnel from the blast killed 4 crewmen outright and wounded 8 more.

 At 08:00 on the 17th the force was split again, ROYALIST,  KHEDIVE SHAH and Force 62 detached and set course for Trincomalee, arriving on the 19th. The remainder of the fleet arrived aback off Ceylon on the 21st. The aircraft of 851 squadron did not re-embark in SHAH but flew ashore from EMPEROR to RNAS Katukurunda on the 21st.

During Operation "Dukedom" Avengers from 851 carried out the longest airborne attack flight ever undertaken from a British carrier, the target being 530 miles from the launch point, and the final sinking of the HAGURO was the last gun action ever fought between surface ships.




The squadron regrouped at Katukurunda, replacements for the two lost aircraft and one crew wed received before they relocated to RNAS Colombo Racecourse on June 7th. Just under three weeks later they were order back on-board SHAH, flying out to join her on the 27th for anti-submarine duties. They were joined by a detachment of four Avengers from 845 squadron also embarking from RNAS Colombo Racecourse on the dame day. They were joined 8 Hellcats from EMPERORs 800 squadron on the 24th, however these did not stay on board for long, and returned to EMPEROR at the beginning of July when SHAH returned to Trincomalee. 851 disembarked to RNAS Trincomalee on July 6th.


Operation CARSON: August 10th - 15th 1945

On August 7th five Avengers from 851 flew out from RNAS Trincomalee to re-join SHAH to operate A/S cover while the 12 Avengers of 845 Sqn, already onboard, were to conduct bomber strikes in the upcoming Operation CARSON.

SHAH was again to operate as part of Force 61, consisting of the AA Cruiser ROYALIST (Flag of Rear Admiral G.N. Oliver, CB, DSO, R. A. Commanding 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron), CVEs AMEER (804 Sqn, 20 Hellcat), EMPEROR (800 Sqn, 24 Hellcat), EMPRESS (896 Sqn, 20 Hellcat), KHEDIVE (808 Sqn, 24 Hellcat), and SHAH (845 Sqn 12 Avenger (for strikes), 851 Sqn 5 Avenger for A/S cover)), , Destroyers TARTAR (Captain (D), Tenth Destroyer Flotilla), PENN, VIGILANT, and VERULAM. The Force sailed from Trincomalee at 16:00 on August 10th, to attack enemy shipping and airfields in Penang and Medan areas (Sumatra) planned for August 14th and 15th. On August 11th the force was ordered to hold west of 90 degrees East and await further orders; the operation was eventually cancelled in light of the news of Japan's announced willingness to accept the Allies surrender terms. The Force subsequently returned to Trincomalee, arriving at 11:30 on August 15th when the Station General Message 'SUSPEND OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS AGAINST JAPANESE FORCES' was made to all ships and allied forces.


Operation JURIST: August 17th – 26th 1945

SHAH was now allocated to participate in Operation JURIST an amphibious assault by the 3rd Commando Brigade to capture Penang Island on the west coast of Malaya planned for August 21st 1945.

Elements of the EIF including put to sea at 09:30 on August 17th for operation JURIST, these comprised of Force 11, comparing the Battleship NELSON ( Flag, Vice Admiral Walker), escort carriers ATTACKER (879 Sqn 24 Seafire L.III), HUNTER (807 Sqn 24 Seafire L.III), SHAH (845 Sqn 12 Avenger (for strikes), 851 Sqn 5 Avenger for A/S cover)), and STALKER (809 Sqn 24 Seafire L.III), the light cruisers CEYLON and NIGERIA, the destroyers PETARD, TARTAR and VOLAGE, and the landing ships PRINCES BEATRIX and QUEEN EMMA. Force 12 comprised the destroyers VERULAM and VIGILANT and eight yard minesweepers; Force 13 comprised the destroyer PENN and LST 383 loaded with vehicles; Force 14 with the escort destroyer CALPE and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s BELA and EMPIRE SALVAGE; Force 68 with the heavy cruiser LONDON (Flag, Commodore Poland) and destroyers RAIDER and ROCKET; and Force 157 with the Indian sloop GODAVARI, Coastal Forces repair ships BARRACUDA and MULL OF GALLOWAY, tanker CROMWELL, 26 motor launches of the 34th, 38th and 56th Motor Launch Flotillas, and nine harbour defence motor launches of the 110th Harbour Defence Motor Launch Flotilla.

Shortly after the JURIST forces took passage eastward delays in negotiations, and in the arrival of the Japanese Emperor's orders to cease hostilities in South East Asia became apparent; orders were issued postponing the start of JURIST and on August 20th all forces took shelter on the north east coast of Great Nicobar Island. These delays meant that all plans were now to change, the occupation of Penang was to be undertaken in a revised Operation JURIST, employing a smaller Force; SHAH and STALKER and the Cruiser NIGERIA were released and sailed for Trincomalee on the 24th, arriving in harbour on the 26th.


Stood down: September 1st 1945

After the Japanese surrender, all upcoming plans to accept the surrender of Japanese forces in the area and liberate former British colonies were poised set to be put into action. However, political constraints meant that no landings could take place until after the signing of the main surrender in Tokyo on September 2nd, 1945. The delays meant that all plans were now to change; thus, the reoccupation of Malaya would take place in three phases. Phase one would be the recapture of Penang Island (Operation JURIST). Phase two would be the recapture of Singapore (Operation TIDERACE). Phase three would be the sea borne assault of North West Malaya in the Port Dickson, Port Swettenham area with landings near Morib with the 25th Indian Division and the 37th brigade of the 23rd Indian Division (modified Operation ZIPPER), carried out as planned and rehearsed, but the covering air and sea bombardment had been cancelled.

SHAH and 851 squadron were not required for the scaled back version of JURIST; she was stood down from operations and received orders to sail for the UK. On September 1st she sailed for Colombo, disembarking 845 squadron and the 851 aircraft to RNAS Trincomalee once at sea; on their arrival both squadrons were stood down and their aircraft were withdrawn.

The squadron personnel mow travelled to Colombo and re-joined SHAH  on September 3rd as passengers, along with the men of 845 squadron on the 8th, for passage home to the UK. HMS SHAH  departed Colombo on September 12th bound for the Clyde via Aden, the Suez Cana, Malta and Gibraltar.



Squadron Disbanded

HMS SHAH arrived at Gourock on the River Clyde on October 7th 1945; both 851 and 845 naval air squadrons were officially disbanded on this date.






Content revised: 23 December 2023


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

Winton, J. (1978) 'SINK THE HAGURO' London, Seeley Services & Co.

Sturtivant, R., Burrows, M. & Lee, H., (2004) 'Fleet Air Arm Fixed-wing Aircraft Since 1946' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

Campbell, D. (2015) ‘BuNos! Disposition of World War II USN, USMC and USCG Aircraft Listed by Bureau Number’ Morrisville,

Royal Australian Navy Monthly Naval Warfare Review, November, 1944 Section 6. Model Anti-U-Boat Operation in The Indian Ocean.

International Journal of Naval History, December 2007 Volume 6 Number 3 “Just like a Training Exercise” The Destruction of U-198 in the Indian Ocean 12 August 1944 by Dr Malcolm Llewellyn-Jones MBE, Naval Historical Branch






No badge issued for this squadron



Battle Honours


BURMA 1945

Aircraft Types
Avenger I Oct 43 - Dec 44
Wildcat V Jun 44 - Sep 44 


Commanding Officers
Lt. Cdr (A) (P) A. M. Tuke, DSC, RN 01 Oct 1943

 Lt. Cdr (A) (P) M. T. Fuller, DSC, RNVR

Squadron disbanded 24 December 1944





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Aircrew and squadron personnel














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