A history of 853 Naval Air Squadron


Formation and work-up

The Squadron was formed on the 4th of December 1943 at the US Naval Air Station Squantum, Massachusetts. The Commanding Officer was Lt Cdr (A) N.G. Haigh RNVR, the Senior Observer Lt E. J. Treloar RN, and the Senior Pilot Lt (A) M.W.S. Jones RNVR. Only four of the other 19 squadron officers had any 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 with an RAF Flight Sergeant in charge. The squadron took delivery of twelve new Tarpon Is.[1];.the flying personnel were organised to form thirteen crews, twelve being assigned their own aircraft with one a spare crew.

The squadron flew for the first time on the 6th December 1943 and flew intensively during its 12-week stay at Squantum. The flying training embraced all the many aspects of the work of torpedo bomber reconnaissance squadrons. A total of 874 sorties were flown, including 162 at night. Flying time in excess of 1,250 hours was recorded. This was achieved in spite of intense cold which made it very difficult to start the engines. On occasions the sea in Boston Bay froze over. The only days when flying was not programmed in the 12 weeks were Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and one Sunday. Part of the training was in deck landing, and during the work-up the squadron flew to Norfolk, Virginia, and all the pilots completed four deck landings each on the USS CHARGER in Chesapeake Bay.

The squadron suffered casualties during the work-up. On only the second day of flying one aircraft, JZ398 ('3G') crashed into the sea while carrying out a dummy torpedo attack in formation off Gurnet Point, Plymouth Bay, the crew of three, Pilot Sub-Lt H. H. Lilley, RNVR, observer Sub-Lt G. Walters, RNVR and Leading Airman D. E. Afford were all killed. Two other aircraft were damaged in other accidents. JZ410 ('3Q') piloted by Sub-Lt A. G. Sandison, RNVR was badly damaged on December 20th, landing at Squantum in a strong cross-wind the aircraft stalled causing the port wing to drop and the machine landed heavily; both wing stubs were buckled and the aircraft was out of action for repairs until March 1944. The same pilot was forced to make a made a wheels-up landing, at night, on a frozen lake on January 31st 1944; JZ395('3B’) lost power due to an Iced up carburettor and the frozen Lake Quannapowitt was to only location on which to put down. The crew were unhurt and the aircraft was later salvaged and repaired.


The Grumman Avenger Mk.1 - known as the 'Tarpon' in the RN - as issued to 853 squadron at Squantum. © IWM A 19796

Flight to Vancouver

At the end of the work-up the squadron moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada, in preparation for embarking on an Escort Carrier. The aircraft flew to Vancouver following the normal aircraft ferry route, which was south to the Mexican border, through the Rocky Mountains and then up the west coast of America.

A ground party travelled by train with the squadron stores. The flight to Vancouver, which started on March 1st 1944, did not go smoothly. The first mishap occurred on the second day when the squadron landed at Shreveport, Louisiana. JZ411 ('3R') piloted by Sub-Lt H. Curtis , RNVR was caught in the slipstream of the preceding aircraft and spun in on approach to land at Barksdale Army Airport, Shreveport, the crew were unhurt but the aircraft was a write-off and they had to return to New York to obtain a replacement.

The remaining 11 aircraft continued on the flight. The next problems arose at El Paso, Texas. Here one aircraft was found to have engine defects and another swerved off the runway into soft sand on take-off and was damaged. These aircraft were left to be repaired and to await the replacement aircraft from New York before continuing their flight. On the flight from Tucson one aircraft had to make a forced landing because of an oil leak, but this was corrected and the nine aircraft arrived safely at Los Angeles. On the flight from Los Angeles, however, another aircraft developed a defect and had to make a forced landing. Unfortunately, the emergency airfield used was extremely muddy and the aircraft and the other two in the sub-flight, which landed to give assistance, became bogged down. It was two days before the three aircraft were extricated from the mud and followed the others.


In the meantime the leading six aircraft had reached Redding, California, but had then become weather-bound. The other three, delayed aircraft over flew Redding and the six on the ground took off without clearance to follow them. The nine aircraft were reunited at Portland, Oregon, and flew on together to Vancouver which they reached on March 10th, nine days after they had started out from Squantum. The remaining three aircraft, the new one to replace the one written off at Shreveport and the two left at El Paso to be repaired, eventually arrived at Vancouver on the 19th. The ground party had arrived at Vancouver on March 4th after a gruelling four-day journey in which they had hardly left the train.

The squadron stayed ashore at the RCAF airfield at Sea Island for about four weeks, during which time the aircraft were repaired from the ravages of the flight from Squantum and the crews prepared to join the escort carrier HMS ARBITER which was in port at Vancouver.


The squadron aircraft first flew out to the ship on the 4th of April for deck landing practice and to work up the ships air department and flight deck parties. On completion of this training on the 5th the aircraft were struck down into the hanger and ARBITER sailed from Vancouver on her maiden operational voyage. There as only one flying incident during this short training period; on the 5th JZ410 ('3Q') piloted by Sub-Lt W. Brewer, RNVR swung on unassisted take off, braked and nosed up.

The ship reached San Diego, California on the 9th where more stores and equipment were loaded. ARBITER  put to sea on the 11th for flying exercises and completed 12 sorties without incident before flying was curtailed by high winds and the ship returned to San Diego on the 13th.

 ARBITER sailed for the Panama Canal on the 17th of April. During passage to Balboa flying was restricted by weather conditions, the wind being first too strong and then too weak. However, squadron aircraft made fourteen training sorties. Two accidents occurred during these. The repaired JZ410 ('3Q') piloted by Sub-Lt R. D. Pepler , RNVR crashed into the ship’s ‘island’ when landing on the 17th while Sub-Lt M. E. Gall, RNVR ran off the deck edge in JZ394 ('3A') and ended up with a wheel into the port catwalk on the 21st. Shortly before arriving at Balboa the ship’s engines broke down and she had to be towed into port.

Personnel of 853 squadron pose with three of their Avengers on to the deck of HMS ARBITER .

It took eight days to repair the ship’s engines. When this had been done she passed through the Canal to Cristobal and sailed for Norfolk, Virginia. The squadron resumed flying on May 8th, completing five training sorties before the wind strength fell; d when aircraft were launched for a second exercise the second to take off JZ396 stalled on take-off and crashed into the Caribbean; the three man crew, Pilot Sub Lt. A. G. Sandison, observer Sub Lt K. Hyde, RNVR and Leading Airman J. Crosgh, were rescued by the plane guard the USS REHOBARTH. Sub Lt. Hyde received serious injuries. [2]


Flying training resumed on the next day, but was halted again after only six sorties when the ship had to heave to when salt water was found to have entered in the boilers. The engines were shut down and would require dockyard assistance to start up again. So for the second time in three weeks ARBITER was towed into port, this time by the USS REHOBARTH to the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. She entered harbour on the morning of May 11th and secured alongside; repairs were to take five days. ARBITER resumed her voyage to Norfolk on the 15th but this time unescorted, this meant that no further flying was possible and the squadron aircraft were stowed in the hangar. At Norfolk the ship was taken into dockyard hands for a two week programme of defect rectification before sailing on to New York, arriving on the 31st.


While alongside at Staten Island, she began loading a deck cargo of Corsair aircraft for delivery to the UK, 853 squadron's machines remained stowed in the hanger and no further flying was possible. “D” Day was spent in New York and on the 6th June 1944 the ship sailed in convoy for the UK, arriving at the King George V dock in Glasgow on the 20th of June.


RNAS Machrihanish and Working-up June – September 1944

The aircraft were unloaded by crane at the King George V dock and towed to the nearby Renfrew airfield, from where they were flown to RNAS Machrihanish. A ground party and stores were taken to Machrihanish by road. The squadron then went on fourteen days’ leave.

On return from leave on the 8th July 1944 the squadron moved temporarily to RNAS Maydown i in Northern Ireland for an anti-U-boat course, arriving there on July 11th. This involved twelve days of morning lectures with flying in the afternoons and at night. Sixty training sorties were flown from Maydown. There was one accident, on July 19th Sub Lt H. Curtis, RNVR flying in JZ503 landed with the undercarriage retracted. Damage was slight and there were no injuries.

On arriving back at Machrihanish the squadron embarked upon an intensive programme of anti-submarine bombing, both by day and at night using flares to illuminate targets. Nearly 350 sorties were flown, 60 at night, without incident. During the stay at Machrihanish the squadron contributed to a flying programme arranged for the benefit of the First Lord of the Admiralty, and it was complemented for its formation flying and its air discipline. On the 29th of August the number of aircraft in the squadron was reduced to nine and three crews and their aircraft were transferred to other squadrons.


A fighter flight is formed

While the squadron and ARBITER were still on passage to Norfolk in May, a flight of 4 Wildcat V fighters was formed at RNAS Eglinton in preparation for their arrival. [3] This flight was embarked in the Fleet Carrier FORMIDABLE on June 14th until the 24th. It was disbanded soon after its return to RNAS Eglinton. Pilots for a second fighter flight assembled at RNAS Eglinton on September 5th and the flight was officially formed on September 17th with 4 Wildcat Vis.



The squadron’s 9 Avengers flew aboard TRACKER on September 12th 1944, a ground party with the stores having embarked the previous day, and on the 17th four Wildcats landed on to join the squadron. All squadron aircraft now had the prefix ‘T’’ instead of ‘3’ on their fuselage to donate their operating from TRACKER. For three weeks the squadron flew intensively from TRACKER on a joint work-up programme with the ship. All pilots re-qualified at deck landing on the ship, both by day and at night. The emphasis was on anti-submarine exercises. Over one hundred and fifty training sorties were completed without major incident. The ship was twice visited by FOCT, Vice Admiral Lyster, and his staff to observe progress. There were two flying incidents during this period, both involving Avengers; on the 17th JZ399 ('TH') piloted by Sub-Lt H. J. C. Spencer, RNVR caught a late wire and the prop hit the barrier 18rh JZ403 ('TM') piloted by Sub-Lt T. Lea had its port tyre come off during an accelerated launch and was diverted to land at RNAS Machrihanish.

The work-up with the ship completed, and the squadron flew ashore to RNAS Machrihanish for further flying and  compass swinging and maintenance prior to final embarkation on the ship. The squadron’s complement of aircraft was increased to eleven Avengers and five Wildcats. On the 14th of October the squadron flew back aboard TRACKER off Holy Island and the ship sailed for Scapa Flow in company with the carriers VINDEX and NAIRANA and screened by a surface escort. The squadron made its first operational sortie when an Avenger flew an anti-submarine patrol patrol as the force sailed through the Minches.

HMS TRACKER with Avengers embarked.

Escort of Convoys JW.61 and RA.61, codenamed Operation TRIAL

TRACKER  (853 Sqn, 10 Avenger, & 5 Wildcats) sailed from Scapa Flow on the 21st of October 1944 in company with the British built escort carriers VINDEX (811 Sqn, 12 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat), and NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 4 Wildcat) and the cruiser DIDO for the covering force for the safe passage of Convoys JW.61 and RA.61 to and from Murmansk in North Russia.

The covering force comprised of the following vessels: distant cover Cruiser DIDO with the 17th Destroyer Flotilla ONSLOW (D17), ORWELL, ORIBI, OPPORTUNE, OFFA, OBEDIENT; Close escort was provided by 8th escort group, Destroyer WALKER, Sloop LARK, LAPWING, Corvettes CAMELLIA, OXLIP and RHODODENDRON; Carriers NAIRANA, TRACKER, VINDEX (Flag CS10), screened by 15th escort group, Frigates INGLES, LOUIS, LAWSON, LORING, MOUNSEY, NARBOROUGH) and 21st escort group, Frigates CONN, BYRON, FITZROY, DEANE, RUPERT, REDMILL.

The force sailed from Scapa on October 21st to rendezvous with convoy JW.61 on the 22nd. The 34 merchant vessel convoy and the close escort had sailed from Loch Ewe o the 20th. The carriers took turns to be duty carrier, TRACKER with its Avengers covering the daylight hours from 06:30 and the other carriers with Swordfish covering the hours of darkness. Normally two Avengers were maintained on patrol during duty periods, with Wildcats being scrambled to investigate radar contacts as they occurred.

On the 27th D/F bearings indicated that five U-boats were in the vicinity and three additional Avengers were launched on a close search. At 11:18 one of 853’s Avengers surprised a 510 ton U-boat on the surface. As the Avenger was armed with an acoustic homing depth charge it circled the U-boat and sent a sighting report. TRACKER turned into wind to launch its strike force of two Avengers and two Wildcats which were manned and at instant readiness on deck. However, when the sighting Avenger had completed one orbit of the U-boat it commenced to dive. The Avenger immediately dropped its homing depth charge ahead of the swirl left by the U-boat but the expected explosion did not occur. When the U-boat submerged the launch of the strike force was cancelled. The sighting Avenger marked the position and waited for the surface escort to arrive and take over the hunt. When the Avenger landed on it was found that the depth charge had been dropped ‘safe’ because of a short circuit in the wiring of the arming device in the bomb bay.  

The carriers arrived in Kola Inlet leading to Murmansk on the 28th of October and anchored in Vaenga Bay; JW.61 arrived without loss. The escort force remained there for four days, local leave was granted but the run ashore at Kola Inlet was quite a shock to the system - those who went ashore found there was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. Everyone had to stay on the road, deviation from the road brought attention from armed Soviets soldiers- many of whom were women. While in port the Red Navy Choir gave a concert in TRACKER’s hangar to an audience from the escort vessels.

The return convoy, RA.61 sailed form Kola Inlet on November 2nd, later that day the Frigate MOUNSEY was hit by an acoustic torpedo fired by U-295 forcing her to return to the Kola Inlet for temporary repairs. The squadron started to fly patrols immediately, three aircraft being maintained on patrol on the 3rd and fourteen sorties being flown during the day. One of the Avengers sighted a diving U-boat but it was not near enough to attack; the position was marked and the hunt taken over by surface escorts. Four aircraft landed on in the dark. One Avenger was damaged, JZ397 (‘TF’) piloted by Lt W. N. Sailes, RNVR, ended up with its port wheel over the deck edge an in the catwalk. There was insufficient wind to operate Avengers on two of the next five days, and on these TRACKER’s turn as duty carrier was taken over by NAIRANA. On the other days TRACKER’s Avengers flew eighteen patrols. One Wildcat was flown-off to investigate a bogey which proved to be an Avenger with a faulty IFF. NAIRANA and TRACKER detached for Scapa on the 9th, sailing for the Clyde the same day and arrived on the 10th to undergo voyage repairs and the squadron then went on ten days’ leave.

On return from leave the squadron left TRACKER, the aircraft flying off to RNAS Hatston, in the Orkneys, via RNAS Machrihanish. During its stay on TRACKER the squadron had made 136 deck landings, 19 of them at night.



The squadron aircraft arrived at RNAS Hatston on the 4th of December 1944, and a ground party with the stores arrived two days’ later after a gruelling journey. While at Hatston the squadron was granted ten days’ leave with three days’ travelling time. Half the squadron took the leave up to and including Christmas, and the other half took it in the New Year. During the stay at Hatston 132 training sorties were flown by the Avengers and Wildcats. Over the Christmas period U-boats were reported to be operating inshore, and the squadron Avengers flew 30 operational dawn and dusk patrols.


Fighter flight loaned to HMS PREMIER

Part of the Wildcat flight were loaned to HMS PREMIER for her next operation; he was to participate in Operation "LACERATE", December 12th - 17th 1944; this was a mine laying sortie and shipping strike off the Norwegian coast. The ships for this operation formed Force 2, comprising the Cruiser DEVONSHIRE, CVEs PREMIER and TRUMPETER, Destroyers ZEALOUS, ZEPHYR, SAVAGE, SERAPIS, SIOUX and ALGONQUIN. On the 11th two detachments of Wildcats were joined the ship; 2 from 881 Squadron and 4 from 853 to provide fighter cover.


Force 2 put to sea on December 12th, both carriers were equipped with 6 Avengers and 8 Wildcats, which were in action on the 14th laying mines in the shipping channels off the Norwegian coast. Two enemy W/T and signal stations were also destroyed by aircraft gunfire. On return from the mission the Wildcats provided Combat Air Patrols over the force and these were alerted at dusk by 6 German aircraft which approached but veered off without attacking. One 853 Wildcat, JV692 ('TX') flown by Sub-Lt M. E. R. Keates, RNVR struck the rounddown on landing on a pitching deck.


A planned second phase of air minelaying operations in Skatestromme on the 15th were cancelled when severe gales caused damage to the flight decks of both carriers, one aircraft that was ranged on deck was lost overboard; as a result the force withdrew to Scapa Flow, arriving there at 18:00 hours on the 16th. The Wildcat detachments were disembarked on reaching Scapa. JV692 ('TX') did not return to the squadron; its tail was chopped off by another aircraft and its back broken, during flight deck handling in preparation for disembarking.

A new commanding officer

The Commanding Officer, Lt Cdr Haigh, was appointed CO of 765 Squadron NOTU and Lt Cdr (A) J.M. Glaser was appointed as his replacement. The command was formally handed over on the 19th December. The new CO was an observer and an additional pilot was appointed to the squadron to compensate for this. On the 21st the squadron Avenger complement was again reduced, this time to eight. In the New Year a number of other changes in personnel were made with some officers being relieved from front-line flying and others leaving for long training courses. Among those relieved from front line flying was the Senior Pilot. Lt Jones and his responsibilities were taken over by Lt Sailes.

On the 18th of January 1945 arrangements were put in hand for the squadron to embark on its next ship, HMS QUEEN, and a ground party with stores was embarked on the 21st. The eight Avengers were to fly to RNAS Ayr to fly on in the Firth of Clyde but the move was delayed by bad weather. Three Avengers flew to Ayr by the east coast route and arrived on the 24th but the others, flying by the west coast, were driven back by heavy snow storms and next day flew by the east coast as far as RNAS Arbroath. There they were joined by two Wildcats returning from a loan to CAMPANIA on the 25th; one of these, JV735 ('TW') flown by Sub-Lt B. H. Beeston, RNVR ground looped landing, causing the port tyre to burst and ended up in a six-foot snowdrift causing the collapse of the undercarriage.



On January 27th the 6 Avengers and 1 Wildcat which were at RNAS Ayr flew out to join QUEEN, landing on in the Firth of Clyde where she had been conducted speed runs over a measured mile, she returned to Greenock once all aircraft were on board. The aircraft from RNAS Arbroath eventually arrived at RNAS Ayr later on the 27th, but were grounded by poor weather conditions. On the following day Flag Officer Carrier Training, (FOCT) Vice Admiral Lyster CB DSO RN, inspected the ship deform she commenced flying training On the 29th.


QUEEN sailed out to the carrier training area (also known as the Carrier playground, an area bounded by Rothesay, Little Cumbrae Island, and Ailsa Craig) and the Squadron Avengers were given carte blanche for deck landing practice, this however was promptly terminated at 13:00 when it began to snow. The 2 Avengers and three Wildcats at Ayr were still grounded by bad weather.


In the early hours of the 31st Sub-Lieutenant’s Spencer, Davis, Lea and Hunter each carried out four night deck landings. Later in the day Lieutenant Sailes and Sub-Lieutenant’s Swift and Parker flew aboard from RNAS Ayr in Wildcats 'QU', 'QY' and 'QZ'. (The squadron aircraft had been allocated the prefix Q with the move to QUEEN). They were joined by the remaining 2 Avengers and further day deck landings were carried out by Avenger pilots.

An Avenger has just landed on HMS QUEEN, the arrestor wire is still hooked as the plane comes to an abrupt halt.

On February 1st FOCT and his staff were embarked to witness anti-submarine exercises and simulated torpedo attacks on the ship and bombing of a towed target by the Avengers while the Wildcats carried out interception exercises. On the 2nd flying training sorties continued to be flown, and Sub-Lieutenant’s Curtis, Gall, Duxbury and Buchanan did four Avenger night deck landings each.

Intensive flying training continued whenever the weather permitted until February 16th; A total of seventy-seven Avenger training sorties were flown. Many of the flights were at night and they included boosted take-offs at night. Avenger crews also began rehearsing a new activity, that of aerial mine laying. Twenty-nine Wildcat sorties were also flown on a variety of exercises.


On the final day of exercises, the 15th, a force of six Avengers was launched in the early hours to simulate the night laying of mines between the Isle of Man and Calf of Man. FOCT and his staff were embarked from SEARCHER that morning, being picked up by two of 853’s Avengers, for a final inspection. At 10:46 while conducting DLT sessions Sub-Lt R. H. Parker, RNVR was about to be accelerated from the deck in Wildcat JV740 ('QY') when the tie-back ring broke immediately the catapult was activated, the aircraft, already at full power, ran off the end of the Deck and over the bow into the sea. The pilot was picked up uninjured within four minutes. FOCT spent the night aboard and was flown off to the light Fleet Carrier to VENERABLE early the following morning. With his departure the ship returned to her marring off Greenock and the squadron went on ten days’ leave.

Operations with the Home Fleet

The squadron returned from leave on February 27th and  QUEEN put to sea the following afternoon to resume flying training and exercising the Carrera Playground. Six Avengers were launched to carry out navigation exercises on March 1st while another 3 were flown ashore to RNAS Machrihanish for compass swinging in preparation for the ship sailing for her first operational sortie the next day.

QUEEN sailed on March 2nd for Scapa Flow in company with the escort carriers SEARCHER and TRUMPETER, escorted by the destroyers ZEALOUS, SERAPHIS and SCOURGE. During the passage six Avenger A/S patrols were flown. One Avenger took a pilot to RNAS Hatston to return with a new Wildcat. As a replacement for ‘QY’. The carriers arrived at Scapa on the 4th and QUEEN was to remain at anchor for the next 10 days.

On March 14th flying resumed in preparation for Operation CUPOLA, the ship operating within the Flow, operating aircraft, recovering them and returning to Scapa each day until the 18th. Eight Avengers were launched on navigation exercises and were safely recovered. Three new Wildcats were flown on from Hatston, JV628, JV650, and JV680. This raised the squadron complement of aircraft to 9 Avengers and 8Wildcats. Another Wildcat pilot, Midshipman W. A. Storey RNVR - joined the squadron. All new Wildcat pilots qualified at deck landing. On the 15th seven Avengers were launched for a minelaying exercise  (Minex) off the island of Papa Westray and recovered. Ten Wildcat sorties were flown on a variety of training missions. On the 17th nine Avengers and six Wildcats were launched for a Minex. On recovery the aircraft were launched again, the Avengers for another Minex and the Wildcats to intercept them on return. Wildcat JV720 ('QY') flown by Midshipman Storey floated into the barrier. In total 33 Avenger and 22 Wildcat training sorties were flown including formation mine laying exercises, escorts and interceptions.


Operation Cupola March 19th – 28th:

QUEEN sailed from Scapa Flow on March 19th as part of Force 1 with her sister CVEs PREMIER (856 Sqn, 8 Avengers & 8 Wildcats) and SEARCHER (882 Sqn, 20 Wildcats), the Cruiser BELLONA, and Destroyers ONSLOW, ZEST, SERAPIS, HAIDA (RCN) and IROQUOIS (RCN)) to conduct operation CUPOLA, a joint shipping strike and air minelaying operation off the coast of Norway. The objective was for 856 Squadron Avengers on PREMIER to lay mines off the Coast of Norway with 882 Squadron Wildcats from SEARCHER providing A/S patrols and fighter cover for the carrier force. The operation was carried out on the 20th with the QUEEN launching two Avengers which flew a/S patrols around the force while two Wildcats were launched to provide top cover over the carriers. The mines were successfully sewn in a broad lead near Askevold, the force encountered little opposition and the fighters strafed a coastal gun battery and a patrol vessel.


The weather deteriorated during this operation; in fact the strike had been delayed until the forenoon in the hopes of improvement. The bad weather caused some problems for returning aircraft on completion of the operation on the 20th, with the wind gusting to 40 knots on the surface and 60 knots over the carrier decks. Both the Wildcats were damaged on landing; JV735 ('QW') flown by Sub-Lt B. H. Beeston, RNVR missed all the arrester wires and entered the barrier, while JV753 ('QX'), flown by Sub-Lt Parker made a heavy landing causing the undercarriage to collapse. One Avenger, JZ409 ('QL') piloted by Sub-Lt H. T. L. Babonau, RNVR was diverted to land on PREMIER and burst both tyres on landing. The force arrived back at Scapa Flow at 1400 hours on the 21st.


Operations MUSCULAR and PREFIX March 24th – 28th:

This set of concurrent operations called for day and night strikes against enemy shipping on the Norwegian coast: MUSCULAR was a night strike in the Leads between Stadlandet and Bredsund while PREFIX I called for a day strike in the Leads between Trondheim Fjord and Kristiansund North and PREFIX II a second day strike if targets were located.

Force 2, comprising of the Escort Carriers QUEEN (853 Sqn, 8 Avenger & 8 Wildcat), SEARCHER ((Flag CS 1, Rear Admiral McGrigor) 882 Sqn, 20 Wildcat), PUNCHER (821 Sqn, 9 Barracuda & 12 Wildcat), and NAIRANA (835 Sqn, 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcat) , Cruisers BELLONA and DIDO, Destroyers ONSLOW (D 17), SERAPIS, CARYSFORT, ZEST, ZEALOUS, HAIDA (RCN), and IROQUOIS (RCN) sailed from Scapa on March 24th.


On reaching the operational area on the morning-of the 25th the weather was marginal, however PREFIX I commenced with a strike by aircraft from QUEEN and SEARCHER; 9 Avengers, each armed four 500lb bombs were boosted off from 853 Sqn escorted by 19 Wildcats from 882 Sqn and four from 835 Sqn to attack shipping in Trondheim Leads and North Kristiansand. Four Wildcats had been launched at 09:50 to investigate a bogey detected 30 miles out; this proved to be a friendly, a Coastal Command Liberator with a detective IFF transponder.

Flying at 300 feet they made a landfall at Suven lighthouse and climbed to 4,000 feet to fly down the leads. Conditions were better and two ships, a tanker escorted by a minesweeper, were staffed by two flights of Wildcats. Intelligence had indicated that two enemy convoys generally met east of the Island of Smolen at 11:00 and the squadron was to bomb the northbound one. No shipping was sighted, however, and the alternative target of coastal guns and flak positions on the Island of Smolen could not be located either. The force was intercepted by a group of eight or ten Messerschmitt Bf 109Gs which were engaged by two flights of Wildcats which shot down three and damaged two others. The Avengers in the strike package found no suitable targets so they had to jettison their bombs and return to the fleet. 853 launched 6 Wildcats to meet and cover the returning Avengers while their escorts dealt with the enemy aircraft. One of 853’s Wildcats made a heavy landing, JV661 ('QY') flown by Midshipman Storey had its starboard oleo collapse.

MUSCULAR was to have commenced on the night of the 26th, a night strike by NAIRANA' s Swordfish against targets in the Leads between Stadlandet and Bredsund but bad weather forced this part of the operation to be cancelled. The bad weather continued throughout the 27th and the task force remained off the coast waiting for it to clear.

The ships stood off the coast on the 27th with the squadron’s Avengers flying three A/S patrols and its Wildcats being launched to intercept another bogey which proved friendly. PREFIX II was carried out in slightly better weather on the 28th when 15 Wildcats from 882 Sqn launched to strike targets at Aalsund, 7 of these aircraft were fighter bombers each carrying two 2501b SAP bombs. 853’s Wildcats flew top cover for the carrier force. The strike was led through rain, sleet and poor visibility by a single Firefly Night Fighter from 764 Sqn specially embarked in NAIRANA for this operation. A low level attack was made on 2 merchant ships seen alongside a quay but no hits were observed. As they withdrew the fighters strafed a W/T station on Vikero Island leaving it burning. Once all aircraft had landed on the force withdrew to prepare for a further strike on the 28th; this was to be a strike by the Barracudas of 821 Sqn but this was cancelled and the force withdrew to Scapa.

On arriving back at Scapa ion the 29th all serviceable squadron aircraft, 9 Avengers and 5 Wildcats, were flown off to RNAS Hatston and a ground party was put ashore.


RNAS Hatston - flying training

Between the 31st of March and the 4th April the squadron Avengers flew 89 glide bombing practice sorties from RNAS Hatston, and the Wildcats flew 36 sorties, mainly on fighter direction exercises. On the 5th April the squadron aircraft flew back aboard QUEEN  and the ground party was re-embarked. Two additional Wildcat of 825 Squadron temporarily joined the squadron for the forthcoming operation, Lieutenant Richards and Sub-LT Woodward with their aircraft and crews.


 Operation NEWMARKET April 6th – 12th:

On April 6th QUEEN (853 Sqn, 9 Avenger & 8 Wildcat) sailed from Scapa as part of a force which included four CVEs, PUNCHER (821 Sqn, 9 Barracuda & 12 Wildcat), SEARCHER ((Flag CS 1, Rear Admiral McGrigor) 882 Sqn, 20 Wildcat), and TRUMPETER (846 squadron, 12 Avengers 8 Wildcats), Cruisers BELLONA, BIRMINGHAM, escorted by the by the 17th Destroyer Flotilla ONSLOW (D 17), OFFA, SCORPION, SCOURGE, CARYSFORT, ZAMBESI, ZEALOUS, ZEST. This was an abortive mission to attack on U-boat depot ships at Kilbotn on April 7th; bad weather at flying off position prevented the strike taking place but the force steamed back and forth for five days in squalls and mountainous seas before the operation was finally cancelled.

The squadron maintained Avengers on stand-by on the 6th and 7th; no patrols were flown, but four Wildcats were launched as top cover for the force on the 6th. On the 8th nine Avengers were armed with four 500lb bombs each, but the weather deteriorated and the strike was postponed. On the 9th three Avengers were armed with depth charges and maintained at stand-by, but no patrols were flown. At the end of the day the aircraft were re-armed with bombs and on the 10th the ships closed the coast again. The weather remained bad, however, and at the end of the day operation ‘New market’ was abandoned and the task force returned to Scapa Flow. QUEEN arrived at Scapa on the 12th and the following day 9 Avengers and 6 Wildcats were launched using the ship’s catapult and flew ashore to RNAS Hatston and a ground party was disembarked. Two unserviceable Wildcats, JV637 and JV650 remained on board before they too were flown ashore on the 14th.


RNAS Hatston - flying training

From the 15th to the 26th April the squadron flew intensively from RNAS Hatston. Over 170 Avenger training sorties were flown, the vast majority of them (71) glide bombing practice. One hundred Wildcat sorties were flown on a mix of section drill, air to air firing and fighter direction exercises. The ground party was re-embarked on the 27th and the squadron, mow operating nine Avengers and eight Wildcats, including four on loan from 835 Squadron led by Sub-Lt Sargent, RNVR with RNVR Sub-Lt’s Atkinson, Berry and Edwards, and took off from RNAS Hatston to land on the ship in the Flow.

When the first Avenger, JZ400 ('QA') flown by the Senior Pilot, Lt. Sailes, with the CO as Observer, approached to land the ship was not quite into wind and the aircraft was waved off. The next two Avengers landed on and were struck down in the hangar and the next five were parked on deck forward of the barriers after landing. By then Lt. Sailes had gone around and made a new approach, he landed successfully and hooked a wire which was a signal to the flight deck crew to lower the barriers. Unfortunately the hook then pulled out of the aircraft and with the barriers lowered it careered down the deck to crash into the parked aircraft. Avengers JZ400 (‘QA’), JZ535 (‘QC’), JZ402 (‘QF’), JZ399 (Q’K’), JZ401 (QM), and JZ409 (‘QL’) were all seriously damaged but there were no injuries. It was the first time that JZ400 had been deck landed since returning from a major overhaul.


It took an hour to clear the deck for all the remaining aircraft to be landed on. In the next two days five of the damaged aircraft were off loaded onto lighters for transport to RNAS Hatston and replacement aircraft obtained and serviced ashore. JZ401 (‘QM’) remained onboard for a main plane change to be carried out. The replacement Avengers, JZ596 ([QA’), JZ472 (‘QC’), JZ405 (‘Q’F), JZ456 (‘QK’), and JZ549, which had been left at Hatston for a major inspection, was given a ten hour extension and was retained as (‘QL’) landed-on on the 29th.

Operation JUDGEMENT May 1st – 6th:

QUEEN sailed from Scapa on May 1st in company with SEARCHER (882 Sqn, 20 Wildcat), and TRUMPETER (846 squadron, 12 Avengers 8 Wildcats), Cruisers NORFOLK ((Flag CS 1, Rear Admiral McGrigor), DIADEM, destroyers OPPORTNE, SCOURGE, ZAMBESI, SAVAGE, CARYSFORT, OBEDIENT, ORWELL and RFA BLUE RANGER to conduct Operation JUDGEMENT another attack on U-boat depot ships at Kilbotn harbour in the Lofoten islands. On passage to the Norwegian coasty the squadron flew seven Avenger patrols and ten Wildcat sorties on section drills. On the 3rd two Avengers and a Wildcat were launched to investigate a contact but nothing was found.

On May 4th eight squadron Avengers armed with four 500lb bombs each, and four Wildcats as escort were boosted off to join the strike force of forty-four aircraft which also included Avengers of 846 from TRUMPETER and Wildcats of 882 from SEARCHER. A 9th squadron Avenger went unserviceable due to an airlock in the fuel supply and had to be left behind.

The strike flew at low level until making landfall at Skoger. It then climbed to 4,000 feet, at which altitude the targets in Kilbotn Harbour were clearly visible. 846 Squadron had been assigned the U-boat depot ship BLACK WATCH as its target and 853 a torpedo depot ship believed to be the KARL Von HERRING but later identified as the METEOR. Wildcats from 882 Squadron were to bomb and strafe a flak ship, the ex-Norwegian cruiser HARALD HAARFLAGER, which was tied up at a pier some way from the other ships. The weather was very good with a little cloud to give some cover to the approaching aircraft. They encountered moderate heavy and light flak.

May 4-1945, attack on the U-boat base at Kilbotn (Operation Judgement) by Avenger and Wildcat from 853 squadron.

As the close escort fighter strafed the targets the Avengers peeled off in rapid succession to bomb them. The first 853 squadron aircraft to dive was JZ596 ('QA'), flown by Lieutenant Sailes with the CO as Observer. It received a direct hit in the port mainplane, probably by a 40mm shell, and was badly damaged. The Telegraphist Air Gunner, CPO Astbury, was wounded by shrapnel, but the aircraft remained controllable and the attack was pressed home. The targets were rapidly obscured by smoke and spray making it difficult to observe hits. ‘QF’, flown by Sub-Lt M. E Gall, RNVR suffered an electrical failure and its bombs had to be dropped with the emergency release, resulting in an overshoot. The last 853 Avenger, piloted by Sub-Lt H. D. Buchanan, RNVR finding the 853 target completely hidden, saw the BLACK WATCH emerging from the smoke and spray and transferred his aim to this, scoring a direct hit which was followed shortly by a violent explosion.


 All 853 Squadron aircraft returned to the ship and landed on safely. One 846 Avenger and one Wildcat failed to return and were presumed to have been shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Photographs by the last aircraft to leave the scene showed both primary targets on fire with the BLACK WATCH down by the stern. Reconnaissance later showed both had sunk. It was later learned that U 711 had been moored between the two depot ships and had also been sunk. Four 853 Wildcats were flown-off as top cover and protection for the returning strike. The carrier force then set course for Scapa Flow, with QUEEN taking turns as duty carrier providing stand-by Avengers.

On the 6th of May seven Wildcats were boosted-off for section drill and gunnery tracking exercises with the escort. In the course of the latter, Sub-Lt Berry, RNVR (835 Sqn) in Wildcat JV842 carried away the aerials of ZAMBESI. Its hook and fuselage were damaged and it was diverted for an emergency landing at RAF Sumburgh in the Shetlands.


Operation CLEAVER

With the surrender of German forces imminent the carrier force was diverted at 16:00 to a position to the east of the Orkneys while on passage for Scapa Flow on completion of JUDGEMENT. They were to prepare to sail as Force 6, a covering force for Operation CLEAVER. The operation called for vessels of the 40th Minesweeping Flotilla to sweep and clear German minefields in the Skagerrak and Kattegat between Norway and Sweden in the north and Denmark in the south. This was to allow the passage of Force 5, Cruisers BIRMINGHAM and DIDO escorted by the destroyers ZEPHYR, ZEALOUS, ZODIAC, and ZEST tasked with the shipborne return of the Danish government-in-exile to Copenhagen and to the take the surrender of German warships in Danish waters.


Before commencing the operation the composition of QUEEN’s embarked aircraft was adjusted; to make room for more fighters three Avengers were flown ashore to RNAS Hatston, taking with them a number of pilots and observers who were being relieved from first-line flying; at 18:00 on the 6th Avengers JZ401 (‘QM’) and JZ549 (‘QL’) were flown to RNAS Hatston by Sub-Lt Gall and Sub-Lt Babanau along with Sub-Lt Briscoe who were all leaving the squadron. Early the next day Sub-Lt Berry was delivered back to the ship by a visiting Avenger, and upon its departure was followed ashore by the damaged Avenger JZ596 ('QA') was launched for RNAS Hatston by Sub-Lt Buchanan who was also leaving the Squadron. He first landed on CAMPANIA, which had joined the force during the night, to take Lieutenant Beeston and Sub-Lt Storey to pick up two new Wildcats from her, but they returned empty-handed. Later that day 5 additional Wildcats from 815 Sqn fighter flight were flown over to QUEEN from CAMPANIA, three of them flown by additional pilots being loaned to the Squadron; Lt Green , Lt Kemp , and Sub-Lt Woodward . The changes resulted in an aircraft complement of six Avengers and 12 Wildcats.

On May 7th QUEEN set course for the Skaggerak still in company with SEARCHER (882 Sqn, 20 Wildcat), and TRUMPETER (846 squadron, 12 Avengers 8 Wildcats), Cruisers NORFOLK ((Flag CS 1, Rear Admiral McGrigor), DIADEM, destroyers OPPORTNE, SCOURGE, ZAMBESI, SAVAGE, CARYSFORT, OBEDIENT, OFFA and the Oiler RFA Fortol to conduct Operation CLEAVER. A/S patrols were flown throughout the day.

On the 8th of May Victory in Europe Day was announced, however hostilities were not due to end until midnight so fighter and A/S cover was given to minesweepers clearing a channel to Copenhagen; the carrier force itself stayed outside the minefields of the Skaggerak. 853 maintained two Avengers on patrol throughout the day, flying 12 sorties, and 18 Wildcat sorties were also flown. One Avenger, piloted by Sub-Lt I. P. Davis, RNVR sighted a formation of JU 52’s which were displaying the sign of surrender and another, piloted by Sub-Lt 0. E. Barnes, RNVR fired a short burst at a Dornier flying boat. At the end of the day Force 6 withdrew, and set ting course for Scapa Flow.


QUEEN arrived back at Scapa on the 10th. At 08:35 one Avenger, carrying two Avenger and one fighter pilot as passengers, together with the five extra Wildcats, were flown off to RNAS Hatston. Here Avengers JZ549 and JZ401 and Wildcat JV666 (a replacement for the one which had to be left at RAF Surmburgh) were collected and flown out to join the ship in the Flow. Lt W. T. Sykes and three air gunners joined the squadron which was now back to a strength of 9 Avengers and 8 Wildcats.

On the 11th Vice Admiral McGrigor and his staff came aboard and congratulated the aircrew who had taken part in Operation JUDGEMENT, which he stated had been a model operation in all respects. On the 13th the squadron sent representatives to a thanksgiving service on the Battleship RODNEY and to an assembly on TRUMPETER which was addressed by the First Lord of the Admiralty.


Escort of Convoys JW.67 and RA.67, codenamed Operation TIMELESS

At Scapa Flow the ship began preparation for escorting convoy JW 67 to Russia. Although the war in Europe had ended it was feared that some U-boats might not have heard of, or would not observe, the cease-fire. QUEEN sailed from Scapa Flow on the 14th of May in company with ORIBI and OFFA.

On the 15th she joined the convoy which consisted of twenty-six merchant ships with eleven escorts. Over the next six days 34 Avenger sorties were flown maintaining A/S patrols up to 100 miles ahead of and around the convoy. The Wildcats also flew 22 sorties. The convoy arrived in the Kola Inlet on the 20th and the escort force spent the next three days there, during which the Red Navy Choir gave a concert in the hangar and some of the crew of the Russian battleship “ARCHANGEL” (formerly HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN) attended a screening of the film ‘Bathing Beauty.”

On the evening of May 23rd QUEEN, with ONSLOW and OBDURATE in company, sailed from the Kola Inlet to join up with the return convoy RA 67 with twenty-five merchant ships. On passage back to the UK 25 Avenger and 22 Wildcat sorties were flown. Increasingly the emphasis changed from patrolling to exercises in which Avengers made dummy attacks on the ships in the convoy while the Wildcats endeavoured to intercept them. In the course of these passage back to the UK one Wildcat, JV706 ('QT), flown by Sub-Lt K. W. Atkinson, RNVR (835 Sqn) failed to catch a wire on landing and crashed into the ship’s island on the 27th. No one was injured.



Squadron Disbanded

On arrival in the UK the squadron prepared to disband. Captain K. J. D’Arcy DSO RN (commanding officer HMS QUEEN) addressed the officers and men of the squadron and congratulated them on the standard of efficiency maintained throughout their five months’ stay on QUEEN and praised the operational achievements, especially the attack on Kilbotn.


The squadron aircraft flew off QUEEN  for the last time on the 30th May, at 08:00 six Avengers and seven Wildcats flew over the ship in “Balboa” formation before flying ashore to the Aircraft Holding U nit at RNAS Stratton for the Wildcats to be put in storage, their crews went directly on leave. The 6 Avengers then flew on to RNAS Donibristle were they too were to be placed in storage. At 12:55 the remaining 2 Avengers were catapulted off the ship and flew directly to RNAS Donibristle. The remainder of the squadron personnel stayed with the ship until it reached Greenock and travelled on leave from there.  






During its brief life of 18 months the Squadron:-

Flew over 5,000 hours,
Served in three carriers,
Escorted two convoys to Russia and back,
Sighted two U-boats, attacking one with an acoustic depth charge,
Took part in five operations against the enemy in Norway,
Flew nearly 300 operational sorties,
Made over 1,000 deck landings, 94 at night,
The landings resulted in only seven significant accidents, an accident rate of less than 1%. Only two accidents occurred on take-off.


Content revised: 28 November 2022


Primary information sources

Additional sources:

Thanks to Mr. H. J. C. Spencer former Sub Lt RNVR (A), (P) who wrote the base account upon which this is based.

Special thanks to Mr. David Weaver, author of ‘The History of HMS Queen – A World War II Lend Lease Escort Aircraft Carrier’ for sharing his research into the ship and her squadron.




Motto: Defend, Avenge



Battle Honours

ARCTIC 1944-45


Aircraft Types
Avenger II Dec 43 - May 45
Wildcat V  May - Sep 44
Wildcat VI Sep 44 - May 45

Commanding Officers

Lt. Cdr (A) (P) S. N. G. Haigh RNVR 14 Dec 1943
Lt Cdr (A) (O)  J. M. Glaser 19 Dec 1944

Squadron disbanded 30 May1945


















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