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A history of 881Naval Air Squadron

 

Formation and work-up

881 squadron formed at RNAS Lee-on-Solent on June 1st 1941 as a Fleet Fighter Squadron equipped with 6 Martlet fighters [1] and 8 pilots under the command of Lt-Cdr J.C. Cockburn RN. Tragedy struck only 11 days into the squadron familiarisation with their new equipment; Lt J. A. Rooper was killed on June 11th flying in AL254 he was involved in a mid-air collision with Fulmar N1924 of 800 Sqn over the airfield, both aircraft crashed into the sea, the Fulmar crew Sub-Lt T. P. O'Donovan, RNVR and Sub-Lt H Morris, RNVR were also killed. A second squadron pilot was killed on December 21st; Petty Officer pilot L. E. Burston was flying from RNAS Lee-on-Solent to RNAS Abbotsinch in AM973 when he flew into a hill in cloud at Rashleigh Farm, 3 miles north of Ardrossan, Ayrshire.

The squadron was originally to have joined ARK ROYAL once their work up was complete the ship was sunk on November 13th; the squadron was reallocated for service in ILLUSTRIOUS which was under repair in Liverpool from the end of December. She had been involved in a collision at sea in the Atlantic in extremely rough seas and low visibility on 16 December when she ran her bow into the stern of FORMIDABLE, doing extensive damage to both ships. She was taken in hand by a Liverpool Dockyard and did not emerge until late February.

The Grumman Wildcat, known initially in RN service as the Martlet II. AM965 served with 881 Sqn in the spring of 1943.

Joining HMS ILLUSTRIOUS for operations in the Indian Ocean

The squadron moved to RNAS Machrihanish on February 13th 1942 in preparation for joining the ILLUSTRIOUS on March 15th as she sailed for Scapa Flow to carry d out flying trials. The squadron had received an additional 3 Martlets by this time bringing the strength to 9 aircraft and 11 pilots. On completion of these trials she returned to the Clyde to join military convoy WS17. On the 22nd they were joined by their sister squadron 882 which embarked with 9 Martlets from RNAS Machrihanish. The convoy sailed on March 23rd bound for Freetown, Sierra Leone, ILLUSTRIOUS with the Destroyers INCONSTANT, JAVELIN and PAKENHAM sailed as part of the Ocean Escort leaving the convoy on March 31st to proceed independently to Freetown.

A hangar fire broke out on April 2nd that destroyed 11 aircraft and killed one crewman; no serious damage was done to the ship and repairs were made at Freetown. Six Swordfish were destroyed and 3 Swordfish, and 1 Fulmar attached to 881 Sqn, were damaged, it is assumed that 2 Martlets were also put out of action. Replacement aircraft were reissued by the storage section of R.N. Air Station, Hastings, and located 8 miles southeast of Freetown. An additional 12 Martlet Mk.II fighters arrived on board the Escort Carrier ARCHER on the 3rd, these were transferred to ILLUSTRIOUS bringing her total fighter strength to 25 Martlets; 881 increased from 9 to 12 aircraft and 882 with 6 with the remaining 7 carried as a reserve. By the time she sailed this had changed, 2 Martlet Is of 882 Sqn and supporting personnel were transferred to ARCHER to provide a fighter capability, originally this was to be 4 machines but was changed at the last moment.

The Fleet Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS at sea.

After eight days in harbour ILLUSTRIOUS and her three escorts sailed for Durban on April 9th with Convoy WS.17A, joining with HM Battleship MALAYA, AA Cruiser HERMIONE, Destroyers ACTIVE, ANTHONY, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, and LOOKOUT as escort. The convoy arrived at Durban on April 22nd; ILLUSTRIOUS reached her final destination, Kilindini on April 26th. The Carrier was now nominated to participate in the planned landings at Diego Suarez, part of invasion of Madagascar, code-named Operation IRONCLAD.

 

Operation IRONCLAD: 5th to 7th May 1942  ILLUSTRIOUS sailed on April 28th with the escorting force for Convoy Z. This convoy sailed from Durban on the 28th and was made up of the following, the troopships DUCHESS OF ATHOLL, FRANCONIA, ORONSAY, SOBIESKi, WINCHESTER CASTLE and Landing ships (Infantry) KARANJA, KEREN, and ROYAL ULSTERMAN. Upon departure from Durban the convoy was escorted by the battleship RAMILLIES (flag, Rear-Admiral E. N. Syfret, CB, RN), Fleet Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS (881 Sqn - 12 Martlet II, 882 Sqn - - 8 Martlet II & 1 Fulmar, 810 Sqn - 10 Swordfish, and 829 Son - 10 Swordfish), light cruiser HERMIONE and the destroyers INCONSTANT, LAFOREY, LIGHTNING, LOOKOUT, JAVELIN and PAKENHAM. On May 3rd the Fleet Carrier INDOMITABLE ((Flag, Rear-Admiral D. W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) 800 Sqn - 8 Fulmar, 806 Sqn - 4 Fulmar, 880 Sqn - 6 Sea Hurricane IA, 827 Sqn - - 12 Albacore, and 831 Sqn - 12 Albacore), with Destroyers PALADIN and PANTHER joined the 'Z' convoy.

By dusk on the 3rd the fast convoy ‘Z’ had closed to within about 4 miles from the slower ’Y’ convoy and prepared to form into five assault groups, RAMILLIES, HERMIONE, ILLUSTRIOUS, and INDOMITABLE with their Destroyers formed Group I. At noon on the 4th the flagship was some 95 miles west of Courrier Bay and at 14:30 Group I parted company with the convoys and steered for the covering position near Cape Amber. At 15:00 Groups II to V formed up for the final approach. The landings commenced in the early hours of the 5th and aircraft from the two Carriers were in action half an hour after the initial landing.

ILLUSTRIOUS was tasked with attacking targets in the harbour and any shipping; 18 Swordfish armed with torpedoes, bombs and depth charges, were launched and the armed merchant cruiser BOUGAINVILLE was hit by a torpedo, the submarine BEVEZIERS was sunk by depth charges and the sloop D'ENTRECASTEAUX, another submarine and AA batteries were narrowly missed by bombs. Fighter protection was provided by 8 Martlets, which patrolled over the town during the attack. One Swordfish was shot down during the attack. One Martlet from 881 squadron was damaged on returning to the ship, AJ123 flown by Sub-Lt H. D. B. Eaden, RNVR missed all the arrester wires and entered the barrier. One Martlet was lost, AM992, failed to return to the ship after searching for the crew of the 829 Sqn Swordfish shot down during the morning strike, it too was shot down and the unnamed pilot was picked up unhurt by the LS(I) KEREN.

INDOMITABLE launched 6 Albacores which simultaneously carried out a low level bombing attack on the airfield at Antsiran; hangars, which were full of aircraft, were left burning. This was followed by an attack with incendiary bullets by eight sea Hurricanes. Both strikes had achieved the element of surprise with good, results. Following these initial strikes fighter patrols were established over the town, beaches and transports, and A/S patrols off the entrance to Diego Suarez harbour.

Fighter patrols were maintained o throughout May 6th; 881 squadron pilots destroying 3 enemy planes at 06:00, all Potez 63-11 twin engine light bomber/reconnaissance aircraft. Lt. C. C. Tomkinson despatched one which crashed with both engines on fire over Diego Suarez, a second was shared by Lt R. A. Bird and Sub-Lt B. J. Waller, RNVR which crashed in woodland S of bay, Diego Suarez, and the third by Mid A. C. Lindsay, RNVR went down with its port engine on fire 8 miles south of Antsirane.

The forward aircraft park on ILLUSTRIOUS C. May 1942. There are 3 Swordfish and 1 Fulmar in the bows and 15 Martlets of 881 & 882 squadrons. © IWM A15063

On the 7th the Martlets were engaged by French f Morane 406 fighters; at approximately 09::45 Sub-Lt Waller and Sub-Lt J. A. Lyon, RNVR attacked one and it was shot down with its engine on fire, at 10:30 Sub-Lt Waller damaged another which force landed on mud by the shore near Diego Suarez; he scored his third success of the day by shooting down another which was shared with Lt. Tomkinson. One Martlet was lost after a head on attack over Diego Suarez by a Morane 406 and was forced to ditch off the coast, the pilot Lt L. A. Hordern, RNVR was rescued safely. Martlet AJ112 (‘B’) flown by Lt. G. Purcell, RNVR hit the S4 porn-porn mount landing on. By the end of the air operations for IRONCLAD the two carriers had flown 309 sorties for a loss of four aircraft by enemy action. 881 Sqn lost 2 Martlets but destroyed 6 enemy aircraft in aerial combat. Two aircraft were damaged in landing accidents. ILLUSTRIOUS s arrived back at Kilindini on May 10th.

Two replacement aircraft were transferred from the strength of 882 Sqn on the 19th, AJ113 and AJ116; one of these, AJ113 was put out of action the next day when Sub-Lt P. R. Stevens, RNVR missed all the wires landing on and entered the barrier. A pair of Martlets from 881 were flown ashore to RN Air Section Port Reitz, on May 26th re-joining the ship on the 29th when ILLUSTRIOUS sailed from Kilindini for passage to Colombo at 12:30 as part of Force A - WARSPITE (Flag, C- in-C, Eastern Fleet), ILLUSTRIOUS (Flag, RA Aircraft Carriers, Eastern Fleet) FORMIDABLE, GAMBIA, DUNCAN, and ACTIVE.
 

Test of Ceylon Air Defences: 12th and 13th June 1942  Flying training and exercise were carried out on passage. Approaching the Ceylonese coast on June 5th 881 sqn lost another aircraft, AJ117 flown by Lt A. G. Woods (882 Sqn) suffered engine failure in the landing circuit, he attempted to land but ditched; the pilot was safely rescued. The Force entered Colombo harbour at 15:30 on the 5th.

Force A, now comprising the Battleship WARSPITE, Fleet Carriers FORMIDABLE and ILLUSTRIOUS, Cruiser GAMBIA, and Destroyers LAFOREY, LOOKOUT, LIGHTNING and HMNethS VAL GALEN put to sea on June 12th to conduct simulated attacks on installation on the island to test t their defences. When 35 miles west of Colombo Force A was used as a target for attack by Ceylon air forces, fighters from ILLUSTRIOUS and FORMIDABLE being sent up to intercept these attacks.

Striking forces consisting of 11 Albacores and 14 Swordfish from FORMIDABLE and ILLUSTRIOUS were flown off at 05:00 on the 13th, and carried out dawn attacks on Colombo Harbour and on Ratmalana and Colombo Racecourse aerodromes. At 06:10 four Fulmars from ILLUSTRIOUS were flown off to carry out a separate attack on the RAF Seaplane base at Kogalla. This strike was intercepted by one fighter before it reached its objective. At 07:15 ILLUSTRIOUS began experiencing difficulties launching her Martlets using the American catapult system; a towing strop parted and one Martlet was slightly damaged tipping up on its nose. A new strop was fitted, and after one more successful launch, this strop parted and the aircraft, AJ113 went over the bow into the sea and sank immediately. The pilot, Sub-Lt J. Walker was unable to get clear and was drowned. Force A continued to exercise with allied aircraft until returning to Colombo on June 18th.

The Force sailed from Colombo at 09:00 on June 23rd to return to Kilindini. During passage there were two flying incidents on the 26th; AM993 flown by Sub-Lt N. K. Turner, RNVR (882 Sqn) suffered fine pitch failure, unable to adjust his propeller for landing speeds he ditched, the pilot was safely rescued. The Force arrived back at Kilindini at 17:00 on July 1st and ILLUSTRIOUS and her squadrons prepared for the next operation. On approaching the harbour Lt H. A. Monk, RNVR (882 Sqn) flying in AM994 ('N') made an emergency landing and entered the barrier. The same aircraft suffered an undercarriage collapse on July 17th landing on during flying training, this time piloted by Lt. Hordern.
 

Operation STAB: July 30th - August 2nd 1942 This operation called for a simulated attack against the Japanese-occupied Andaman Islands group in the Gulf of Bengal to divert Japanese attentions from the Solomon Islands. Force A sailed from Kilindini at 08:00 on July 21st for Colombo, arriving on the morning of the 28th. On passage AJ116 flown by Lt H. A. Monk, RNVR (882 Sqn) struck a pom-pom mount during an emergency landing on the 26th.

Sailing on the 30th for Operation STAB, Force A comprised of WARSPITE (CinC) Carriers FORMIDABLE and ILLUSTRIOUS, cruisers BIRMINGHAM MAURITIUS and HMNethS JACOB VAN HEEMSKERCK, and Destroyers INCONSTANT, NAPIER, NIZAM, NORMAN and and HMNethS VAN GALEN . On August 1st three dummy convoys for Operation STAB sailed from Trincomalee (Force T), Vizagapatam (Force V) and Madras (Force M). On the 2nd Force A gave cover to Force T and the plan continued to unfold throughout the day but at at 19:15 Force A entered Trincomalee harbour to refuel and the operation was cancelled. The Fleet arrived back at Kilindini at 09:00 on August 18th. There were two flying accidents during this period; on the 1st Sub-Lt Lyon made a fast approach in AJ112 ('B') and entered the barrier, on the 2nd, Petty Officer Pilot F. J. Shaw was killed when his aircraft AM987 stalled into the sea on approach to land on the carrier.

 

Operations ashore in E. Africa: August – December 1942

Both 881 and 882 squadrons were disembarked on August 19th to operate from RNAS Mackinnon Road 41½ miles WNW of Kilindini Harbour. This was a very basic airstrip which was established alongside the Mombasa-Nairobi railway at Mackinnon Road at the start of May 192. The site was little more than a small clearing in the bush which was expanded, and extended to create two landing strips, 200 yards wide by 1950 and 1700 yards in length. There were no permanent buildings on the site, all accommodation was under canvas. One Martlet crashed on landing at the rudimentary airstrip for the first time; AJ132 (882 Sqn) landed with its tail wheel in the locked position, the aircraft swung to port causing the undercarriage to collapse, the pilot Sub-Lt Turner was OK.

Flying training continued ashore until September 5th when 882 squadron was disbanded and its aircraft and personnel were absorbed into 881 Squadron. The new, larger squadron re-joined the Carrier the following day as she sailed with Force M for Operation STREAMLINE JANE.

Preparing for take-off from the Bush airstrip at Mackinnon Road, Martlet AJ132 'B' is running up its engine while others prepare to start up. © IWM A13667

Operations STREAM LINE JANE: Second Madagascar landings September 1942 ‘STREAM LINE JANE’ was another amphibious landing on the Island of Madagascar which comprised of three separate sub-operations codenamed 'STREAM', 'LINE' and 'JANE'. Two parts were amphibious landings 'STREAM' and 'JANE', while ‘LINE’ was the follow up advance on the Island capitol. 'STREAM' was to capture Majunga, a port of the north-western coast of the island on September 10th and 'JANE' to capture the port on Tamatave on the 18th. Once the assault phase of ‘JANE was complete operation ‘LINE’ saw the advance from Majunga to the French capital, Tannanarive, which fell on 23 September.

ILLUSTRIOUS (881 Sqn - 23 Martlets, 806 Sqn ’B’ Flight – 6 Fulmars, 810 Sqn - 9 Swordfish, and 829 Son - 9 Swordfish), sailed with Force M in company with the Cruisers BIRMINGHAM (Flag, CS4 Senior Officer Force M) and Free Dutch JACOB VAN HEEMSKERCK, Destroyers NAPIER, Free Dutch VAN GALEN, and TJERK HIDDES on September 6th for the rendezvous point for the invasion forces off Madagascar where hey where were joined by the Battleship WARSPITE, Cruisers GAMBIA, DAUNTLESS, MANXMAN, seaplane tender ALBATROSS and Destroyers EXPRESS, FORTUNE, HOTSPUR, INCONSTANT NEPAL, NIZAM, NORMAN (RAN).

Operation 'STREAM' commenced on September 10th, air cover was provided by ILLUSTRIOUS and ALBATROSS, escorted by the destroyers EXPRESS, FORTUNE, HOTSPUR and INCONSTANT. 881 squadron provided fighter cover but the operation was without incident. Air cover was provided for the landing at Tamatave on the 18th, again without incident. ILLUSTRIOUS was released from Operation ‘JANE’ on the 19th and departed for Durban to undergo a short refit, escorted by the Destroyers HOTSPUR and NIZAM.

 

Durban, South Africa: September 21st – October 14th 1942  Arriving off Durban on September 21st ILLUSTRIOUS disembarked 881 and 806 squadrons to operate ashore from RN Air Section Stamford Hill, a South African Air Force Station on the outskirts of the city. The Carrier was to enter the Naval Dockyard for a short refit.

This station was a small grass surfaced former civilian aerodrome with a maximum landing run of 1300 yards Three days later their arrival a hangar fire broke out which destroyed 3 Swordfish and 2 Walrus, while damaging a fourth Swordfish and a Martlet, AJ112 ('B') of 881 Squadron; a small amount of hangar equipment was destroyed and considerable damage done to the hangar itself. Sabotage was ruled out. Leave was granted to squadron personnel and limited flying training was carried out during their stay ashore. Both squadrons re-embarked in ILLUSTRIOUS on October 14th and the ship sailed to return to Kilindini.

 

‘B’ Flight formed in the UK: October 26th 1942 – January 8th 1943 A small sub flight of the squadron was formed at RNAS Donibristle on October 26th equipped with an unknown number of Martlet Mk.IVs. This moved to RAF Kirkistown, Northern Ireland on November 19th for training, returning to RNAS Donibristle on December 19th. They returned to RAF Kirkistown for a second, shorter period of training on December 30th, returning on January 4th. On January 8th 1943 ‘B’ flight was absorbed into 890 Squadron at RNAS Donibristle.

Return to Mackinnon Road: October - December 1942 881 Squadron returned to RNAS Mackinnon Road on October 20th to resume flying training in the African bush. On November 6th ILLUSTRIOUS’s squadrons carried out dive bombing, and fighter exercise attacks against the vessels of Force A in Kilindini harbour.

There were three flying incidents during November; AJ131 flown by Lt W. H. Anderson, RNVR suffered an undercarriage collapses landing at Mackinnon Road on the 10th, a near fatal incident occurred on the 25th when two Martlets collided during formation flying practice. Lt. Anderson was flaying in AJ103 and Sub-Lt T. H. Arrowsmith, RNVR in AM970; both pilots baled out and landed safely.

The squadron re-embarked in ILLUSTRIOUS on December 7th and conducted exercises with ships of the Eastern Fleet during the rest of the month. There were four flying incidents in December, two involving Lt. A. G. Woods, RNVR; on the 15th he landed on in AM974 ('BJ') with the arrester hook up and entered the barrier, he had a second barrier crash in AJ131 the 21st. On December 8th Lt Lyon swung to port on his take-off run in AJ118, struck the B turret director and went over the side, he was safely rescued. Lt F. C. Furlong, RNVR ditched in AJ120 on the 21st after an engine failure, he too was safely rescued. Damaged aircraft were put ashore at Kilindini and transported to RNARY Nairobi in the New Year.


 

Return to the UK and operations with the Home Fleet: January 1943

HMS ILLUSTRIOUS was released from duties with the Eastern Fleet on in early January 1943 and she sailed in company with, the Destroyers NORMAN and NEPAL from Kilindini on the 13th bound for the UK.

On reaching the Clyde on February 4th the squadron briefly flew ashore to RNAS Machrihanish, only to re-join the ship the following day. On re-embarking Sub-Lt Arrowsmith ditched in AM978 after a wheel ran over the edge of the fight deck landing on, he was safely rescued.

881 squadron disembarked from ILLUSTRIOUS for the last tie on February 18th when they flew thier Martlets ashore to RNAS Lee-on-Solent. On landing at the station Sub-Lt A. N. Pym, RNVR in AM966 landed without flaps and had to swing off runway to avoid overshooting, this caused the undercarriage to collapse. Squadron leave was a granted as preparations were begun to fly north to join the Home Fleet. The squadron was now reduced to 10 Martlet IIs and many of the pilots had been reassigned to other duties; on March 1st Lt R. A. Bird was promoted to the rank of Lt-Cdr and assumed command of the squadron, Lt-Cdr J.C. Cockburn being appointed to HMS ARGUS.

The squadron arrived at RNAS Hatston, Orkney on March 27th 1943; they were not allocated to a carrier and continued flying training until early July when a detachment of 7 aircraft was embarked in the Fleet Carrier FURIOUS on the 6th for Operation CAMERA.
 

Operation CAMERA was a short but complex operation designed to be detected by German snooper aircraft and their presence reported, four separate Forces were involved in focusing German attention on the South Norwegian coast by simultaneous converging on that area to simulate a large scale raid. FURIOUS sailed with the main Battlefleet comprising of the Battleships HMS DUKE OF YORK (Flag, C-in-c Home Fleet), USS SOUTH DAKOTA (Commander, Task Group 92.4), Fleet Carrier FURIOUS, Cruiser GLASGOW, US Destroyers ELLYSON, RODMAN, EMMONS, MACOMB, FITCH, HM Destroyers MILNE (D3), MUSKETEER, MAHRATTA, and METEOR. Aloes involved were three smaller Forces Q. R. & S.

The Battlefleet sailed from Scapa Flow on July 7th and by late afternoon on the 8th the combined Forces were detected by German reconnaissance planes and began to withdraw. At 16:20 on the 6th two fighters from 881 Sqn attacked and shot down a BV 138 long range recognizance flying boat, the attack was conducted by Lt-Cdr Bird in AJ129 ('L') and Sub-Lt Lindsay in AM974 ('W') in approximate position 62°N 2°E. Operation CAMERA preceded as planned and was deemed success, the Forces arrived back at Scapa on the 9th, and the 81 detachment flew ashore to RNAS Hatston. On July 26th the whole squadron embarked in the Fleet Carrier UNICORN for Operation GOVERNOR.
 

Operation GOVERNOR was a repeat of Operation CAMERA conducted in an attempt to lure TIRPITZ and other German heavy battleships out of harbour by simulating a raid on southern Norway. This time five forces were involved A, B, C, D, & E; UNICORN (881 Sqn – 10 Martlet II, 887 Sqn – 9 Seafire IIc, 818 Sqn – 4 Swordfish II, 824 Sqn – 9 Swordfish II) sailed on the 27th with Force B in company Battleships DUKE OF YORK and USS SOUTH DAKOTA, Cruiser BERMUDA, Destroyers ONSLOW, OBDURATE, OBEDIENT, ULSTER, GRENVILLE, MATCHLESS, SAUMAREZ, SCORPION, and IMPULSIVE. Air cover was also included in Force A which comprised of the Battleship ANSON (VA, 2-i-C Home Fleet), USS ALABAMA, Fleet Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS (809 Sqn – 12 Martlet VI, 878 Sqn – 12 Martlet IV,, 894 Sqn – 10 Seafire IIc, 810 Sqn- 12 Barracuda II) US Destroyers RODMAN, MACOMB, EMMONS, FITCH, and HM Destroyers MILNE, MUSKETEER, METEOR, and MAHRATTA The Operation was carried out according to plan and was considered to have been successful. Only one force (Force ‘D’) was shadowed for certain but four BV 138 aircraft were shot down during the operations, two by Martlets from ILLUSTRIOUS and two by Beaufighters from RAF 18 Group; no German battleships were tempted out. UNICORN‘s fighters saw no action during this operation but did provide force cover, on the 28th Sub-Lt A. A. Davison, RNZNVR in AJ147 landed with his arrester hook up, bounced and nodded over before skidding into the barrier. UNICORN withdrew to Scapa with Force ‘B’ on the 29th, 881 disembarking to RNAS Hatston. While disembarking from UNICORN Sub-Lt JB Pilling was killed while taking off in AM996, the aircraft stalled and went over the side.

The squadron remained at RNAS Hatston until mid-August 1943 when they moved to RNAS Eglinton, Northern Ireland on the 15th. Here they were re-equipped with 10 Wildcat MK.V. [2]


 

Allocated to the No.7 Naval Fighter Wing

After familiarisation and a short work-up with the new aircraft the squadron moved to RNAS Stretton on September 20th for further flying training. On October 30th 881 squadron became part of No.7 naval Fighter Wing, comprised of six squadrons; two Hellcat squadrons 800 and 804 for service in the assault carrier EMPEROR, and four Wildcat squadrons for service on fighter carriers, 881 and 896 for service in PURSUER and 882 and 898 for service in SEARCHER.

At the start of November they headed north again, arriving at RNAS Hatston on the 9th. The following day they embarked in the Fleet Carrier FORMIDABLE for two days of training at sea before returning to RNAS Hatston the 12th. They departed to return to RNAS Stretton the same day, continuing on to RNAS Belfast, arriving there on November 23rd. Lt- Cdr (A) D. R. B. Cosh RCNVR assumed command on the 27th.


 

Joining HMS PURSUER: November 1943

HMS PURSUER at Greenock, March 6th 1944. A number of Wildcat fighters can be seen parked on the front of the flight deck. © IWM A 22179

The American built Escort Carrier HMS PURSUER was outfitted a fighter carrier and was to operate two Wildcat squadrons, 881 and 898 each with 10 aircraft. On November 26th PURSUER sailed from the Clyde for Belfast to embark aircraft and undergo repairs. At this time 881 squadron was at RNAS Belfast while 896 squadron was at RNAS Eglinton. 881 embarked first on the 26th the ship anchored in Belfast Loch at 16:30. She put to sea at 08:35 the following day and embarked the aircraft of 896 squadron, returning to her anchorage at 17:40. She again put to sea at 08:35 on the 28th, returning at 17:40 the following day; it is assumed this was for flying operations. She then underwent repair work which was completed on December 19th when she sailed to begin her work-up in the Irish Sea. Lt. Cdr (A) D. R. B. Cosh RCNVR took over as commanding officer on November 27th.

The work-up period began with a tragedy on the first day when Sub-Lt D. C. Newman, RNVR of 881 squadron was killed; he was flying in Wildcat JV387 when he was waved off by the DLCO (Deck Landing Control officer) to go around again, his starboard wing tip touched a wireless mast and the aircraft spun into the sea and sank. A second of 881 squadron’s aircraft was badly damaged on the 20th when Sub-Lt A. A. Davison, RNZNVR flying JV375 had a barrier crash. There was one other flying accident recorded during the work-up period Wildcat JV369 ('SC'), 881 Squadron, suffered an undercarriage collapse landing on January 10th 1944; the pilot Sub-Lt D. L. W. Frearson, RNVR was OK.


 

Operations with Western Approaches Command: February 1944

On completion of her work-up PURSUER was allocated for deployment in Western Approaches for convoy defence duties and sailed with the 16th Escort Group (16 EG) on February 4th 1944. Between February 6th and 15th she provided air patrols over convoy OS.67/ KMS.41 (Liverpool to Gibraltar/Freetown). On February 8th Lt. A. C. Martin, RNZNVR (896) flew JV409 into the barrier.

The convoy came under attack 0n the 12th. In the morning at 09:45 the squadron C.O. Lt- Cdr Cosh in JV392 ('2H') intercepted what was reported to be a Ju290. That evening after dusk, an attack formed of seven He-177s from II.KG-40 carrying the Henshel Hs-293 glide bombs approached the convoy. Two flights of Wildcats from 881 engaged them; at 19:30 Lt. Wilson and Sub Lt. Brander engaged the group and Sub Lt. Brander in JV429 ('2N') claimed one He-177 shot down and blew up. At 20:00 the squadron CO Lt- Cdr Cosh in JV375 ('2V’) and his wingman Sub-Lt Turner engaged what they presumed to be 4 or 5 He-177 and probably two Fw200 recon planes. They claimed one Fw200 destroyed and one possibly damaged.

Gathered next to Wildcat V, JV356 ('5A'), Lt. Cdr R. H. H. L. Oliphant, RN (Commander Flying PURSUER, extreme left) talking to the four 881 Sqn pilots who were engaged in shooting down 2 German planes, and possibly a third on February 12th,. Left to right: Lt. H. P. Wilson, RCNVR; Lt. Cdr D. R. B. Cosh, RCNVR, Sqn CO; Sub Lt N. K. M. Turner, RNVR; and Sub Lt T. L. M. Brander, RNVR.  © IWM A 22180

On February 16th the Convoy split; OS.67 continuing on to Freetown, while KMS.41 further split into KMS.41G going to Gibraltar, with the main convoy bound for Port Said. Also on the 16th one of 881 squadrons Wildcats was diverted to land at RN Air Section North Front, Gibraltar when its tail hook failed to unlock for landing on the carrier. The Gibraltar section of KMS.41 arrived in port on the 17th.

On the 19th Sub-Lt. A. N. Pym, RNVR (896) made a barrier crash and overturned in JV435. PURSUER and 16 EG prepared to rendezvous with the north bound SL.149 (Freetown to UK) /MKS.40 (Port Said to UK) which joined up on February 22nd. O the 26th Sub-Lt. D. Symons, RNVR (896) flying in JV421 suffered from falling fuel pressure and ditched, he was rescued by HMS SCARBOROUGH. On release from Atlantic convoy defence on March 6th PURSUER returned to the Clyde.


 

Operations with the Home Fleet: March - June 1944

PURSUER was loaned to the Home Fleet for her next operation, sailing from the Clyde on March 17th in company with sister CVEs EMPEROR, FENCER, and SEARCHER, to participate in providing fighter escort for air attacks on the German battleship TIRPITZ (Operation TUNGSTEN). She arrived at Scapa Flow on the 18th. Flying training continued through the remainder of March.
 

Operation TUNGSTEN forces left Scapa on March 30th in two groups; Force 1 comprised DUKE OF YORK, ANSON, VICTORIOUS, BELFAST, and 5 destroyers left Scapa early morning and after conducting brief exercises proceeded to a position off Bear Island to cover the passage of convoy JW58. Force 2 comprised ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers), EMPEROR, FENCER, PURSUER, SEARCHER, FURIOUS, SHEFFIELD, JAMAICA, 2 oilers, and 5 destroyers left Scapa p.m. and preceded west of the Orkneys.

On April 1st, the date for the operation, which had been April 4th, was advanced 24 hours to take advantage of favourable weather and lack of air reconnaissance of Force 1. Force 1's first screen from Skaalefiord joined Force 2 the following day and on April 1st the two oilers with two destroyers were detached to the oiling position. On April, 2nd ANSON, VICTORIOUS, BELFAST, and 4 destroyers were detached from Force 1 and joined Force 2. The TUNGSTEN force then steered for the flying off position. Flying conditions were perfect when the flying off position was reached at 0400 on the 3rd and the aircraft were flown off according to plan except for the loss of one Barracuda which ditched. 40 Barracudas and 81 fighters took part in the two strikes and a further 25 fighters and 9 Swordfish were kept for the defence of the Fleet.

The good weather allowed for the two strike forces to obtain their desired heights and to take the best route over the mountains. No enemy aircraft were seen by the strike aircraft or the Fleet and the flak around the TIRPITZ was much less than anticipated. The attack was carried out by both fighters and bombers; fighters strafing the defences from a low height and bombers pressing home an accurate attack. The losses during the attack were remarkably small. One Barracuda was shot down over the target and another by shore batteries, both after dropping their bombs. A third Barracuda was lost taking off from VICTORIOUS and a Hellcat ditched when unable to land on EMPEROR. Both strikes returned and landed on safely with the exception of the one Hellcat. The question of repeating the attack the next day was considered but owing to fatigue of the air crews and serious damage reported to TIRPITZ this was abandoned and the force withdrew to the westward. After withdrawing to Scapa 896 squadron disembarked to RNAS Hatston, Orkney, on April 6th, 881 remaining on board. This was a short break before re-embarking on the 11th to prepare for Operation PITCHBOWL.

April 1944: Flight deck parties man-handle aircraft around the deck, the one on the right is being pushed onto the forward aircraft lift ready to be struck down into the hangar. Image © IWM A 23061.

Operation PITCHBOWL was to be a repeat of TUNGSTEN ; the force, ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers) with EMPEROR, FENCER, PURSUER, BERWICK, SHEFFIELD, escorted by MUSKETEER, METEOR, MARNE, MATCHLESS, ONSLAUGHT, PIORUN, and SIOUX sailed on April 13th, but the operation was cancelled the next day due to bad weather and the force returned to Scapa.
 

Operation PLANET was the next attempt to strike at TIRPITZ, undertaken by two forces. Force 7 – Battleship ANSON (VA, 2.i.C. Home Fleet), Fleet Carriers VICTORIOUS and FURIOUS, Cruiser KENT, HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT (D26), KELVIN, SWIFT, VENUS, VIGILANT HM Canadian Destroyers ALGONQUIN, SIOUX. Force 8 -Cruisers ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers), JAMAICA, CVEs EMPEROR, PURSUER, SEARCHER, STRIKER, HM Destroyers JAVELIN, SERAPIS, UNDAUNTED, URSA, WAKEFUL, WIZARD, and Polish Destroyer ORP PIORUN,. Both Forces sailed from Scapa on Friday April 21st.

The attack was planned for April 24th and involved 40 Barracudas with 40 escort fighters; when the forces arrived in the area on the 23rd the weather forecasts were unsuitable and they reversed course for 48 hours. Weather on the following day was equally bad. Both forces proceeded to the flying off position but there was no improvement and the Vice Admiral, Second in Command, abandoned the operation and proceeded to carry out Operation RIDGE.

 

Operation RIDGE was originally intended to be carried out in two parts – RIDGE ABLE (Attack by Force 7 on the shipping in the Bodo area) and RIDGE BAKER attack by Force 8 on shipping in the Rorvik area). In the event it was decided that both forces should carry out RIDGE ABLE with two strikes, one attacking Bodo harbour and the other sweeping the leads to the southward. The two forces arrived at the flying off position at dawn on April 26th.

Weather conditions were not ideal and were worse inshore and in the end both strikes attacked the same target – an escorted convoy of 4 or 5 merchant ships in approximately 67°06’ N, 13°57’ E at about 06:00. The convoy was southbound, presumably having left Bodo about an hour previously. Four merchant ships and one escort vessel were claimed to have been hit with bombs. The largest merchant ship was reported beached and burning and two others on fire.

Two Barracudas and several fighters succeeded in penetrating Bodo Harbour in spite of the weather and one hit was obtained on a large merchant ship. Two other Barracuda bombed a derelict merchant ship ashore and obtained at least one hit. No German aircraft were seen; light but accurate flak was encountered, particularly at Bodo and the force lost 1 Barracuda, 2 Corsairs, 1 Hellcat, and 1 Wildcat. The Wildcat was from 881 Sqn, Sub-Lt Turner in JV373 ('S') failed to return after being hit be by flak over Arno Island, he ditched near a beach 25 yards off the northwest tip of Sandhorne Island and was taken prisoner.

 The force arrived back at Scapa on the 28th, PURSUER being released from her detached duties she sailed on April 30th for Liverpool to undergo repairs.

 

On reaching Liverpool Bay on May 1st both 881 and 896 squadron disembarked to RNAS Burscough, Lancashire. A detachment of 5 aircraft from 881 operated from HMS FURIOUS during this period; the y first embarked on May 11th at Scapa and were on board when the King visited the carrier on the 12th during his visit to the |Home Fleet. They do not appear to have been involved in any combat operations and the detachment ended on the 18th.

The second detachment embarked on May 28th, again at Scapa for Operations TIGER CLAW, CAMBRIDGE, and LOMBARD. FURIOUS sailed as part of Force 7 (VICTORIOUS (VA, 2-i-C, Home Fleet), FURIOUS, Cruisers BERWICK and DEVONSHIRE screened by Destroyers WAKEFUL, WAGER, WIZARD, WHELP, and NUBIAN left Scapa on 28th May and proceeded to the flying off position for Altenfiord. Off the Faroes the force was joined by the Destroyers MILNE, MUSKETEER, MARNE, METEOR, and MATCHLESS; when these 5 destroyers joined WHELP and NUBIAN were detached and returned to Scapa, Before reaching the flying off position on 30th a sighting report from an enemy U-boat was intercepted by MILNE and judged to be within 30 miles. In view of this, and the quite unsuitable weather reports of the target area, Vice Admiral, Second in Command, decided to abandon operation TIGER CLAW and CAMBRIDGE and turned southwards to carry out Operation LOMBARD, strikes on enemy shipping in the Aalesund area.

The flying off position was reached p.m. on June 1st and the weather was favourable. A strike of 6 Barracudas (831 Squadron) and 22 Corsairs (47 Wing) from VICTORIOUS and 10 Barracudas (830 squadron) and 12 Seafires (801 Squadron) from FURIOUS was flown off and to attack a 3 merchant ship convoy, between Kvam Island & Norwegian mainland, reported during the afternoon by an RAF Mosquito, was found and attacked. All three merchant ships were hit by bombs and the escorting flak ships were nearly all hit by the fighters. It is believed that two merchant ships and one escort vessel subsequently sank. No German aircraft were encountered either over the target or the Fleet; It is assumed that the 5 Martlets were used as Force cover. The striking force had landed on by 23:05 and Force 7 withdrew at high speed to the south westward, arriving back at Scapa p.m. 2 June. The 881 detachment ended on arrival at Scapa.[3]

 

Anti-submarine sweeps in support of Operation NEPTUNE: June 1944

PURSUER put to sea on June 2nd 1944 embarking both her squadrons from RNAS Burscough to prepare for operations in the western approaches as part of the cover forces for NEPTUNE operations. PURSUER was employed with TRACKER and EMPEROR in a position 150 miles west of Lands’ End to carry out anti-submarine patrols to intercept U-Boat attempt to enter the English Channel for attacks on invasion traffic. The 1st, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 9th, 11th, 14th, and 15th Escort Groups were also deployed in this area to provide additional support.

On June 5th all available hands were employed to paint the aircraft with the black and white "Bumble Bee" recognition stripes that all allied aircraft were to wear for the invasion. On June 8th 896 squadron lost another pilot; Sub-Lt. J. M. Barber was killed when his aircraft, JV541 crashed into the sea after an accelerated take off.

There were few contacts to investigate during this operation but one enemy aircraft was intercepted and destroyed; at 18:35 on June 9th Lt A. C. Martin, RNZNVR and Sub-Lt. D. Symons, RNVR of 896 squadron attacked and shot down a Ju88 at 49°4'N 7°58'W. PURSUER was released from NEPTUNE operations on June 11th and on arriving back on the Clyde on the 12th was allocated for operations with the Mediterranean fleet.


 

Reorganisation of the 7th Naval Fighter Wing

A change of policy regarding the structure of the Naval Fighter Wings resulted in change to the number of squadrons embarked in the escort carriers; the two squadrons embarked in each carrier were to be combined to form a single 24 aircraft squadron, the other disbanded. On June 12th 1944 896 squadron was officially disbanded aboard PURSUER, her aircraft and aircrew being absorbed into 881 Squadron.[4]

The squadron had sent a detachment of 8 aircraft ashore to RNAS Drem on the 11th, these moving north to RNAS Skeabrae, Orkney on the 16th; on the 20th they embarked in FENCER for her next operation, Operation WANDERERS.

 

Operation WANDERERS was designed to create a diversion in Norwegian waters in the hope of influencing the German navy to retain the large U-boat force already in that area, instead of relocating them south to harass convoys in the English Channel supplying the on-going operation OVERLAORD. The Force, Cruisers ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers) and SHEFFIELD, CVES FENCER and STRIKER, Destroyers MILNE (D3) METEOR, MUSKETEER, WESSEX, WAKEFUL, and MARNE sailed from Scapa at 06:00 on June 20th. The operation was unsuccessful; no U-boats were sighted. The Force returned to Scapa on the 25th.

The following day the 881 squadron detachment departed to re-join the main body of the squadron which had flown ashore to RNAS Eglinton on June 23rd to re-equip with 24 Wildcat Mk.VI. On June 24th the squadron CO Lt- Cdr Cosh was killed in a flying accident while trading in Dive-Bombing techniques at RAF Milford, Lt-Cdr (A) L. A. Hordern DSC RNVR formerly C.O. of 896 Sqn assumed command on the 25th.


 

Reallocated for operations with the Mediterranean Fleet

881 squadron re-embarked on July 4th 1944 after a fortnight of familiarisation and training with their new aircraft, and spent the next 10 days exercising with the carrier.

PURSUER sailed in company with the CVEs EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, and SEARCHER, Fighter Direction ship ULSTER QUEEN, Anti-Aircraft sloop STORK and frigate AWE, sailed from the Clyde at 22:30 on July 15th 1944 to rendezvous at 05:07 in the Irish Sea with Task Group 120.8 (USS TEXAS and screen consisting of USS JEFFERS, BUTLER, HERNDON, MURPHY, SHUBRICK, and GHERARDI) for passage to the Mediterranean.

The convoy passed Gibraltar in the early hour s of July 22nd, and at 09:39 the USS TEXAS, HM Ships EMPEROR and KHEDIVE, escorted by USS JEFFERS, SHUBRICK, and HERNDON, detached and preceded for Oran at 15 knots. The remainder of the convoy consisting of HM Ships SEARCHER, PURSUER, ULSTER QUEEN, STORK and AWE escorted by the USS BUTLER, GHERARDI, and LARSH continued on for Malta. The destroyer USS MARSH joined at 21:45, and at 11:35 the following day another CVE,  ATTACKER, joined the convoy. The convoy arrived at Grand Harbour, Malta 08:51 July 25th.

Later that morning 10 aircraft were flown off to RNAS Ta Kali for pilot training. The aircraft were to spend one week ashore training 12 pilots as spotters and 12 as fighter bombers for the upcoming operation DRAGOON. A less than ideal amount of time to spend practicing a technique not previously trained for by the squadron which only received their tasking orders on arrival at Malta. The fact that all pilots could not gain experience in both roles severely handicapped their effectiveness in the coming operations.



Operation DRAGOON, Allied landings in Southern France, August 1944

At Malta PURSUER joined Carrier Force TF88 for Operation DRAGOON, the invasion of Southern France. The Carrier Force comprised of two Task Groups; TG 88.1 HM Ships ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Troubridge, CTF 88 and CTG 88.1), COLOMBO, ATTACKER (879 squadron with 28 Seafire), EMPEROR (800 squadron with 23 Hellcat), KHEDIVE (899 squadron with - 26 Seafire), PURSUER (881 squadron with 24 Wildcat), SEARCHER (882 squadron with 28 Wildcat), with 7 destroyers, TYRIAN, TEAZER, TROUBRIDGE (Screen Commander), and US Ships JEFFERS, H.P. JONES, MARSH, NIRLACK and MURPHY. TG 88.2 comprised of the CVEs USS TULAGI (Rear Admiral Durgin USN, CTG 88.2, VOF-1 with 24 Hellcat), USS KAZAN BAY (VF-74 with 24 Hellcat), HUNTER (807 squadron with 24 Seafire, plus 1 Swordfish) and STALKER (809 squadron with 23 Seafire), AA Cruisers CALEDON and COLOMBO, 6 US destroyers.

PURSUER sailed for tactical exercises off Malta with TG88.1 on August 1st, sailing at 07:30 and embarking her squadron once at sea. The force continued to exercise off Malta between August 1st and 11th.
 

Task Force 88 sailed from Malta for Operation DRAGOON at 17:45 on Saturday August 12th. Prior to sailing for DRAGOON four spare Wildcats were embarked in addition to 881 squadron’s 24,; these aircraft were put ashore to an advance base at Casabianda aerodrome, Corsica later that day. It was later discovered that no survival or flying gear had been left in them; pilots returning to the ship after being downed had to fly back with no dinghy, parachute or flying helmets.

The invasion commenced in the early hours of August 15th, TF88 flying operations commenced at 06:10, the last aircraft landed on at 20:35. Only daylight flying operations were carried out. The assault area, centred on St Tropez, extended some 30 miles along the Cote d'Azur. It was divided into four sectors, code named (from east to west) Camel, Delta, Alpha and Sitka. The assault troops were formed of three American divisions of the VI Corps, reinforced by the French 1st Armoured Division. The 3rd Infantry Division landed on the left at Alpha Beach (Cavalaire-sur-Mer), the 45th Infantry Division landed in the centre at Delta Beach (Saint-Tropez), and the 36th Infantry Division landed on the right at Camel Beach (Saint-Raphaël). A fourth Force, the First Special Service Force, a joint U.S.-Canadian special forces unit was landed on the offshore islands Operation Sitka to neutralise the Hyères Islands, (Porquerolles, Port-Cros, Bagaud, and Levant). By the end of the first day, 60,150 troops and 6,737 vehicles had been put ashore, including the first French armoured contingent.

PURSUER leads the CVEs of Task group 88.1 - EMPEROR, KHEDIVE and either ATTACKER or SEARCHER bringing up the rear - off the coast of Southern France during operation DRAGOON.

On ‘D’ Day PURSUER and TG 88.1 were at the flying off position at 05:30 and 8881 squadron could be tasked with any of six mission types: Fighter Bomber (F/B), Strafing, Tactical Reconnaissance (TacR), Force Cover, Beach Cover, and Bombardment Spotting. There were 24 pilots and 24 Wildcats on board and 4 reserves aircraft held ashore. On leaving the UK PURSUER was desperately short of aircraft spares, a problem exasperated by the fact that her squadron was re-equipped with Wildcat Vis. This variant had a different engine; a Wright Cyclone as opposed to the Pratt & Whitney Wasp in the Mk.V, a less reliable power plant that accounted for a number of unserviceable aircraft. The squadron CO reported that the severe lack of spares resulted in two aircraft being cannibalized ashore at RNAS Ta Kali and all removable fittings, including the wings, being utilised to keep aircraft serviceable while at sea.

A pre-planned flying programme had been promulgated covering the first 5 days of operations, ‘D’ to ‘D’ + 4. The prepared flying programme for D-Day called for 36 sorties; 4 F/B, 16 Spotting & 16 Beach Cover. This however was not fixed, calls for strikes on enemy positions or additional spotting sorties could be passed to the ship throughout the day. PURSUER’s began launching at 06:00, bombardment spotting missions A1 and A2; a pair aircraft to spot for the Cruiser ORION and another pair to spot for the cruiser AJAX in Alpha sector. These were followed by 4 F/B aircraft armed with 2 x 250 lb bomb each for Attack Mission 2, a strike on coastal Defence Batteries and bombing roads with 4 Wildcats from SEARCHER’s 882 Sqn, however all failed to locate their target due to low cloud so attacked target of opportunity, bombing and strafing troop movements and setting two cars on fire, they landed back on at 07:40.

Spotting missions A4 & A5 were launched at 08:13, the spotters from A1 & A2 missions landed on at 08:59, no bombardments had been carried out due to low cloud. Spotting missions A4 & A5 did not go smoothly; on returning from spitting mission A4, Lt- Cdr Hordern, Sqn C.O. and his wingman Sub-Lt Leeson landed on the USS TULAGI at 11:00 having run low on fuel, they launched to return to PURSUER at 12:40. Sub-Lt R. P. Gibson, RNVR in JV638 ('G') had to ditch after running out of fuel, his flight leader Sub-Lt W. T. R. Smith, RNVR in JV664 ('C') circled the area until he too ran out of fuel and ditched; neither was equipped with long-range fuel tanks. The two pilots tied their life rafts together and were rescued by an SAR plane from Corsica. Bombardment spotting missions continued throughout the day the last pair launching at 16:30.

Beginning at 15:13 eight Wildcats were launched to conduct Attack Mission 33, to strike against costal defence batteries, 4 aircraft for each target. All bombs hit within the target are of one battery with 2 hits and 2 near misses at the other; a tug was strafed in port at Île de Porquerolles. On completion of the strike both flights carried out Beach cover sorties, codenamed ‘Apples patrols’ covering the area from Cap Benat to St. Maxime, all had landed on by 17:02. At 18:35 six Wildcats were launched to conduct Attack Mission 35, they scored 2 direct hits on a gun battery before commencing an Apples patrol covering the area from Cap Benat to St. Maxime. Directed east to Cannes they strafed two trains and a signal box before turning west to reconnoitre as far as Toulon. The last sortie landed on at 20:40.

During the day 881 flew 36 sorties: 18 spotting and 18 F/B. Three Wildcats were written off, two ran out of fuel and ditched and one a barrier crash.  On returning form Attack Mission 35 in JV691 ('X') Sub-Lt D. Symonds, RNVR entered the barrier and the aircraft overturned. The badly damaged airframe was stripped of as many parts as possible before darkness fell and the carcass was jettisoned overboard. The fouled deck resulted in one aircraft, JV640 flown by Sub-Lt R. C. Wilkinson, RNVR was divert to land on SEARCHER, he returned to the ship at 08:30 the next day. Five aircraft were damaged by flak: JV646 (‘W’) flown by Sub-Lt J. W. Herbert, RNVR JV677 (‘P’) flown by Sub-Lt Gibson, JV696 (‘Q’) flown by Lt .T. L. M. Brander, RNVR. JV706 (‘D’) flown by Sub-Lt R. H. Difford, RNVR and JV710 ('S’) flown by Sub-Lt N. Perrett, RNZNVR.

 

On D+1 881 squadron had 18 serviceable aircraft and 22 pilots available. The prepared flying programme called for 34 sorties; 16 F/B, 10 Spotting (plus 4 on call) & 4 Force Cover. PURSUER’s began launching at 06:00, 4 aircraft were ranged for bombardment spotting missions; a pair aircraft taking off for mission A1 and a pair aircraft on call to launch for A2. This was repeated at 08:05 with mission A3 launching, this was followed the on call A4 at 10:08 and A2 at 10:30. Only 2 aircraft were launched for Force cover at 12:15.

Eight F/B Wildcats launched at 13:52 for mission 20, an attack on a gun emplacement followed by beach cover patrols; they scored 12 near misses with their bombs on the gun site but one direct hit one nearby railway track, targets were strafed before commencing Apples patrol covering the area from Cap Benat to St. Maxime. Another F/B strike was launched at 16:56, this time only 7 aircraft, to bomb a railway junction. They initially overshot the target, going too far east and had to re-acquire it before scoring 14 near misses straddling the line on either embankment. They landed on at 18:32.

At 17:05 Sub-Lt Smith and Sub-Lt Gibson landed on in replacement aircraft JV704 & JV715 collected from Casabianda. The last launch of the day was at 18:05, 2 aircraft for spotting mission A13 and 2 more ranged on call for A14. On reaching the target area the ship informed the spotting aircraft that they had no targets and no shoot was carried out. The last aircraft landed on at 19:44.

During the day 881 flew 27 sorties: 10 Spotter 15 F/B and 2 Force cover. JV681 (‘F’) flown by Sub-Lt D. L. W. Freason, RNVR was damaged by flak.
 

On D+2 881 squadron had 20 serviceable aircraft and 24 pilots available. The prepared flying programme was the same as for D+1, 34 sorties; 16 F/B, 10 spotting (plus 4 on call) & 4 Force Cover. Flying commenced at 09:26 when 4 F/B aircraft were launched for an attack on a Fort on port Cros Island; all bombs fell in the target and buildings were strafed but the result could not be assessed due to heavy smoke. Only three aircraft carried out he strike; JV665 flown by Sub-Lt Herbert. RNVR made a forced landing on STALKER at 10:40 after his radios went unserviceable. After making repairs he launched at 12:45 to re-join PURSUER.

At 11:00 4 aircraft launched for an armed reconnaissance of the roads between Brignoles- Mirabeau - Cadenet - Aix- Cap Sicié; they bombed a bridge, a railway junction and station. They landed on at 13:04 having observed no movement on the roads, but confirmed that all bridges crossing the Durance River between Mirabeau and Cadanet were down. JV678 (‘T’) flown by Sub-Lt D. Symens, RNVR suffered minor flak damage;.on reaching the ship Sub-Lt W. Park, RNVR in JV640 (‘O’) had to make a no flaps landing, his aircraft had been damaged by friendly fire from JV703 (‘S’) flown by Petty Officer Brittain.

Eight aircraft launched for beach patrols at 13:53; four of these aircraft suffered flak damage during the patrol but all landed safely, JV646 (‘W’) flown by Sub-Lt E. A. Lawrence, RNVR, JV668 (‘Y), Sub-Lt J. W. Herbert, RNVR, JV703 (‘S’) by Sub-Lt V. H. Martin, RNZNVR, and JV730 (‘N’) flown by Sub-Lt A. B. Christie, RNVR.

During the day 881 flew 16 sorties: 4 F/B, 4 Armed Recon, 8 Beach Patrol. 6 aircraft were damaged by flak.

Armourers prepare to load 250lb bombs onto Wildcats of 881 squadron during operation DRAGOON.

On D+3 881 squadron had 18 serviceable aircraft and 24 pilots available. The prepared flying programme was the same as for D+1. Flying commenced at 09:21 when 7 aircraft launched for an armed reconnaissance of the roads between Brignoles- Mirabeau - Cadenet - Aix- Cap Sicié; evidence seen that all river bridges still down and no signs of rebuilding, some light motor transport movements seen, bombed a rail yard and junction.

Two aircraft launched for force cover at 12:03, followed at 14:03 by a second armed recon by 4 aircraft re-covering the roads between Brignoles- Mirabeau - Cadenet - Aix- Cap Sicié; rail yard, rolling stock and sheds bombed. This flight landed on at 16:30, one aircraft, JV698 flown by Sub-Lt Wilkinson, hit the barrier causing minor damage. Sub-Lt Herbert’s aircraft JV679 landed on with flak damage. The final mission of the day was 8 aircraft for beach cover, launching at 17:14 and the last aircraft had landed on by 19:11.

During the day 881 flew 21 sorties: 11 Armed Recon, 8 Beach Patrol and 2 Force Cover.
 

On D+4 881 squadron had 19 serviceable aircraft rgin-top:3px; margin-bottom:0">rgin-top:3px; margin-bottom:0">flying programme was the same as for D+1. The squadron was to have a busy flying programme; the first launch of the day was an early beach patrol, 8 aircraft taking off at 07:15, they returned at 09:00 after an uneventful mission.

The second mission of the day was an armed recon by 4 aircraft launched at 10:10 to cover the roads between Aries - Tarascon – Cavailion – Carpentras – Orange - Avignon, in the Rhone Valley, further west than their previous recon area. They reported sighting 6 merchant vessel at Port-de-Bouc before investigating the airfields at Plan de Dieu and Orange-Caritat, they bombed and strafed hangars and dispersed aircraft at the later. During this sweep Sub-Lt R. Banks, RNVR in JV669 radioed that he had been hit by flak and was ditching in the river Rhone 4 miles north of Avignon. He was reduced and later re-joined the ship. Sub-Lt Herbert in JV679 was hit by flak and, unable to jettison his bomb, landed on the emergency strip ashore at St. Tropez at 12:45; he took-off to re-join the ship at 14:10. A third aircraft from this mission, JV698, flown by Petty Officer Airman Bishell sustained severe flak damage and made a forced landing on STALKER at 11:50.

A second armed recon of 4 aircraft launched at 14:18, again to sweep up the Rhone valley covering the roads from Tarascan – Avignon – Carpentras – - Cavailion. Attacks were made on a railway junction and rolling stock, and several motor vehicles of various sizes. Returning to the ship at 16:06 Sub-Lt R. A. Wiltshire, RNVR in JV646 suffered a barrier crash.

At 15:09 6 aircraft were launched, three flights of 2, for spotting duties followed by 4 aircraft for Force cover at 16:24. The last mission of the day was another armed recon which took off at 17:43, only 3 aircraft took off to rendezvous with a flight of 4 F/B Hellcats from EMPEROR to attack a concentration of 16 tanks reported in a wooded area. They failed to find the tanks, but attacked Arles Railway yard instead, one Hellcat pilot scored a direct hit on a locomotive with a 500 lb. bomb and two fires were started. The wildcats bombed and strafed the railyard and trucks. During this mission Sub-Lt Park in JV678 (‘T’) force landed on TULAGI with a fuel leak. After refuelling and temporary repairs he took off to land on STALKER. During one of her spells as Spare Deck she received 2 Wildcat Vs from SEARCHER's 882 Sqn at 20:15, these remained on-board as the fleet secured from flying operations for the night.

During the day 881 flew 29 sorties: 11 Armed Recon, 8 Beach Patrol, 6 spotting and 4 Force Cover. 1 Wildcat was lost to enemy action, 1 aircraft was damaged in a barrier crash, and 2 damaged aircraft had landed on other carriers.
 

The two Task Groups of Force 88 had operated together for the first five days of the operation, but separated late on the 19th; ATTACKER, EMPEROR, PURSUER, and SEARCHER withdrew to Maddalena, Sardinia for a 24 hours replenishment and rest period while KHEDIVE transferred to TG 88.2 to bolster that force which remained off the French coast providing air cover.
 

D+5, rest day: TG88.1 arrived at Maddalena at 08:00 on August 20th and the carriers anchored in Arcachon Bay. The pilots had a day’s rest but most of the ship's company were busy on maintenance work, embarking bombs, ammunition, petrol, stores, etc. The Force sailed at 18:00 to return to the operational area.
 

On D+6 TG88.1 carriers arrived t at the flying off point south of Marseilles at 06:00 on the 21st, 881 squadron had 16 serviceable aircraft and 22 pilots available; two aircraft and their pilots were on board carriers operating with TG88.2.

The programmed flying schedule had ended on D+5 so the carriers were now supplying sorties on request from the Bombardment co-ordinators and Amy Co-operation teams. The first launch was at 07:42, a pair of aircraft for spotting duty over alpha sector; low cloud however meant the shoot was cancelled. At 08:04 four F/B aircraft were launched to attack transport, rtroop and railway concentrations in the area Montpelier – Nimes – Remoulins – Moussac - Montpelier – Tarascon. They sighted 100 plus motor vehicles and scored hits with 4 bombs before strafing the column setting fire to several petrol wagons, resulting in 40 vehicles destroyed. Other groups of vehicles were sighted but not attacked. The last aircraft from the flight landed on at 10:27.

A second spotting mission was launched at 09:44 for Alpha sector but again no shoot took place. The two Wildcats belonging to 882 Sqn were launched at 09:45 to return to SEARCHER. Four aircraft launched at 12:13 for a second F/B mission to attack concentrations of motor transport in land. They bombed and strafed two large columns of vehicles (50 plus) near Uzes damaging many and leaving other burning, A locomotive and 15 rail trucks were strafed scoring many hits. Sub-Lt N. Perrett RNZNVR in JV646 had make a forced landing on ATTACKER at 12:35 after experiencing engine problems on nearing the coast, he re-joined PURSUER at 20:19. Of the three pilots that continued on with the mission Petty Officer Airman R. Brittain flying in JV668 ('Y') failed to return, he was killed in unknown circumstances. The reaming two aircraft landed on at 14:20 and 15:03.

A third pair were launched at 12:44 for a successful shoot against a gun emplacement in Stika Sector. Two further spotting missions were launched at 18:20, one pair to spot for a bombardment against a group of 6 guns in pits at a fort near Toulon, and the other pair to spot for a shoot against inland targets by RAMILLIES. The last aircraft landed on at 20:30 and flying for the day ended.

During the day 881 flew 18 sorties: 8 F/B, 10 spotting. 1 Wildcat and its pilot was lost, possibly to flak damage. 8 aircraft landed on with various degrees of flak damage; JV640 (‘Q’), JV665 (‘U’), JV694 (‘M’) and JV704 (‘C’) were badly damaged. While operating as the duty Spare Deck in the early afternoon PURSUER received 3 Seafires from ATTACKERs 879 Sqn. This caused some problems for the flight deck parties as the ship had no equipment for folding the wings of a Seafire; these machines could not be taken into the hangar and had to be move around the deck as necessary before ATTACKER could receive them. They departed at 16:24.

On completion of the day’s flying TG88.2 withdrew and proceeded overnight to Maddalena, Sardinia for their 24 hours replenishment and rest period.
 

On D+7 881 squadron had 11 serviceable aircraft and 20 pilots available. The flying off position was moved to the western side of the Gulf of Lyons in response to information that a German division was believed to be moving across from the Biscay coast. The division, however, moved north instead of east, and targets were hard to find in the new operational area west of the Rhone.

KHEDIVE re-joined TG 88.1 at 08:00; she had detached from TG 88.2 at 22:00 on D +5 and proceeded to Maddalena escorted by TYRIAN. Before detaching Sub-Lt Park in Wildcat JV678 (‘T’) transferred from STALKER and now landed back on board PURSUER at 10:04. Petty Officer Airman Bishell was also on board KHEDIVE on her return, he had been transferred from STALKER on the USS HENDERSON, his aircraft was not recovered.

The first launch of the day was not until 14:06 when 7 aircraft took off on a bombing mission to attack railway tracks at Narbonne – Castlenaudary containing element of the 11th Panzer Division. On arrival over the target no trucks carrying Tanks could be found, the railyard hit by 12 bombs and, already damaged, trucks strafed.

A second F/B mission of 8 aircraft was launched at 16:28 with the primary target being as group camouflaged vehicles. No sign of the vehicles on reaching the co-ordinates so attacked the railway station at Marcorignan were they spotted 30 goods trucks, 2 locomotives and 3 cars carrying rails. They bombed and strafed the area damaging the two locomotives and left many trucks on fire. The last aircraft landed on at 18:06 and flying for the day ended.

During the day 881 flew 15 sorties, all F/B. One aircraft, JV682 was damaged by flak but repaired overnight.
 

On D+8 the force returned to the operating position south of Marseilles overnight; 881 squadron had 15 serviceable aircraft and 22 pilots available. PURSUER’s flying commenced at 07:45 with two aircraft launched for a spotting mission. The entire days flying programme was to be Bombardment spotting sorties, 18 in total, this tasking was a punishing one for the squadron as only 10 pilots were trading for these missions and most would have to fly 2 sorties each.

The first mission A1 was to spot for targets in Delta sector, time on task was limited as the ship reported it would not be ready to begin until 09:30, three hits were confirmed on target K.20 after 2 ranging salvos and 5 salvos fire for effect. The pair landed back on board at 10:30. The second spotting pair launched at 08:55 for targets in Alpha sector, the fall of shot was poor and only two salvos hit the target area. The pair landed on at 10:57.

At 09:47 two pairs of aircraft were launched for missions A3 and A5. Mission A3 was aonother sortie over Delta sector engaging target K.20 with limited success. The pair for A5 had no tareegts relayed to them so resorted to making a recon of the area between Toulon and Marseilles; one pilot, Petty Officer Brown in JV681 had to land ashore at the emergency strip at St. Tropez at 11:15, rtaking off at 15:45 to re-join the ship, landing on at 16:47.

The pair for mission A4 launched at 19:30 for Alpha sector but again no targets were engaged and they landed on at 12:45. There was now a short break in the flying programme, the next pair did not launch until 13:02 for A9 another unsatisfactory shoot in Delta sector. Mission A11 launched at 14:14 for Alpha sector, this time a firm target, a fort, was engaged and badly damaged by several salvos. The next mission, A10 was salsa spotting in Delta sector, the target was a clifftop fort with a concealed gun emplacement, target K.23, this received several direct hits but failed to put the guns completely out of action. The final mission, A12 also went to Delta sector, launching at 15:08 to spot for a shoot against target K.22 but with poor results. The last aircraft landed on at 17:36 and flying ended.

During the final day of operations 881 flew 18 sorties, all bombardment spotting. Flying operation for TG88.1 ended at 19:45 and the Force left the operational area at 21:00 and set course for Magdalena. TG88.2 arrived back on station at 06:30 on August 24th D+9 to resume operations.
 

881 squadron had flown a total of 365.35 flying hours completing 180 sorties over eight days of operational flying; 62 Spotting, 86 Fighter Bomber, 8 Force cover, 24 Beach Cover. They began operations with 24 Wildcats, at the end of operations on August 23rd they had 17 serviceable machines, and two replacements had been received. Four aircraft and one pilot were lost. No enemy aircraft were encountered, but 46,125 0.5in rounds and 19 tons and 440 lbs of bombs were expended against ground targets.
 

TG88.1 anchored in Arcachon Bay, Magdalena at 1:130 on the 24th. The ships of TG 88.1 were released from Dragoon operations ended at dusk on Sunday August 27th. Sub-Lt R. Banks arrived back on board on this date, having made his way to Magdalena by various means, finally landing in the harbour in a Walrus next to the ship. HUNTER and STALKER arrived at Maddalena at 10:45 that morning and anchored in Arsachona Bay at about 11:30. PURSUER and elements of TG88.1 left Maddalena later that day to proceed to Alexandria.

 

Operations in the Aegean Sea: September 1944

PURSUER arrived at Alexandria on September 1st. A detachment of 6 Wildcats was put ashore to RNAS Dekheila on September 3rd, re-embarking on the 10th. While at Alexandria the seven carriers of Rear Admiral Troubridge’s Escort Carrier Squadron were reallocate for operations in the Aegean, an new force, Force 120, was constituted on September 2nd and initially comprised ROYALIST (F.O.E.C.) ATTACKER, EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE, PURSUERSEARCHER STALKER, TROUBRIDGE ( Capt. ( D) 24), TYRIAN, TEAZER, TERMAGANT, TERPSICHORE, TUMULT, TUSCAN, TENACIOUS$, NAVARINON, and GARLAND. They were later joined by the cruisers ORION, AJAX, ROYALIST, BLACK PRINCE, ARGONAUT, AURORA, and COLOMBO from Naples.

 

Operation OUTING I Force 120 and the Cruisers were to split into two groups, the carriers EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, PURSUER, and SEARCHER sailing with Force A, their task was to hamper and delay German troop movements in the Dodecanese Islands, (Leros, Kos, Samos, Rhodes and Levitha). Force A sailed from Alexandria on the 9th of September to operate off the south coast of Crete, the carriers to carry out reconnaissance and strikes by day, also to provide CAP for the force while the Cruisers and Destroyers of the force struck at targets by night. The first night targets presented on the 12th/13th when ROYALIST and three destroyers attacked a small convoy on the Candia-Santorin route; the next night drew blank, but on the night of the 14th/15th two German KT ships were destroyed by ROYALIST and the Destroyer TEASER.

PURSUER had an uneventful time on passage to the planned operating area, one aircraft, JV676 ('UK') flown by Sub-Lt N Perrett RNZNVR had to make an emergency landing on the 13th. On the 15th the force was joined by ATTACKER in preparation for the first air operations on the 16th. For the first three days of operations the Seafires from HUNTER and KHEDIVE, and the Wildcats from PURSUER and SEARCHER provided combat air patrols during the daylight hours for the Command Cruiser ROYALIST and her destroyers, and also for a minesweeping force clearing a path for the occupation of Kithira Island, between the western end of Crete and the Peloponnese.

The first phase of the operation was the neutralising of the outer air defence ring formed by the Islands of Crete-Scarpanto-Rhodes. On the 16th Wildcat fighter-bombers from PURSUER and SEARCHER attacked vehicles on the roads of Crete and sank four caiques and damaged a further six with bombs. They also strafed transport ashore and spotted for shore bombardment. Three of 881 squadrons Wildcats were damaged by flak, JV677 ('UP') Sub-Lt Gibson, JV696 ('UQ') Sub-Lt Brander, and JV706 (‘UD') Sub-Lt Frearson, but returned safely.

Armed reconnaissance sorties were flown over the islands of Milos and Thia, and on the 19th the force carried out dive-bombing of targets on Rhodes; targets included four airfields, all vessels in its harbours and coastal waters, and all transport on its roads. 68 motor vehicles and two Ju.52 aircraft were destroyed. Two Depot ships and five calques were sunk and a Radio Station and 1,000 ton merchant ship were damaged. Operation OUTING I was completed on the 20th and PURSUER and other carriers of the force returned to Alexandria for replenishment. 881 squadron Wildcats had flown 136 sorties.

 

Return to the UK and operations with the Home Fleet

PURSUER and SEARCHER sailed from Alexandria and preceded, unescorted to Gibraltar on October 1st, from there they joined the convoy MKS.63 from Gibraltar on the 8th. This convoy rendezvoused with the north-bound SL.172 to form the combined convoy SL.172 /MKS.63 bound for Liverpool. On reaching the cover of the Western Approaches the two carriers detached and preceded to the Clyde here they arrived on October 12th; 881 squadron was flown off to RAF Long Kesh on route. On October 25th Lt. Cdr (A) C. Ballard RNVR took over as squadron commanding officer.

On October 27th PURSUER  sailed for Scapa Flow, re-embarking her squadron on leaving the Clyde. She arrived at Scapa at 18:00 on the 28th to re-join the Home Fleet, 881 squadron flew ashore to RNAS Grimsetter on October 30th. They re-embarked on November 5th for flying training and to prepare to undertake their next operation, Operation STEAK.
 

Operation STEAK had two Objectives, first to give fighter cover for operation COUNTERBLAST on the night of 12th/13th conducted by HM Cruisers KENT and BELLONA, with HM Destroyers MYNGS, VERULAM, ZAMBESI, and HMCS ALGONQUIN to attack enemy shipping off the south-west coast of Norway, where the absence of fjords and off shore islands forced shipping out into the open. On completion of this phase an attack by fighter aircraft on shipping in the Vingvaagen anchorage and an anti-shipping sweep off the Leads to westward were carried out. The force, Cruiser  EURYALUS, PURSUER, Destroyers CAESAR (D6), NUBIAN, VENUS, and ZEPHYR sailed on November 9th but were forced to return to Scapa due to bad weather; they sailed again on the 12th to rendezvous with the COUNTERBLAST force. PURSUER’s aircraft sunk one trawler, another was set on fire and a Radar Station was bombed. The force returned to Scapa on the 16th. There were deck landing incident s during this period; on the 8th Sub-Lt C. S. Cole, RNVR entered the barrier after his hook bounced and he floated over all the wires in JV666 ('UE'), the impact damaged the engine bearers. On the 14th, JV677 ('UP'), flown by Lt L. Calvert, RNVR crashed on deck when the undercarriage collapsed after failing to completely drop down. Five days later PURSUER put to sea for her next operation.
 

Operation HANDFAST was conducted by a small force, Force 3, on the 19th/20th November. HM Ships DIADEM, PREMIER, PURSUER,, ZEALOUS, ONSLAUGHT, SCORPION, SCOURGE sailed for an aerial minelaying operation in Salhusstrommen near Haugesund, Norway by PREMIER’s 856 Squadron's Avengers with fighter protection provided by the Wildcats of 881 Squadron. For the mine laying operation 856 flew 9 Avengers and her 4 Wildcats, these were joined by 8 Wildcats from 881 providing High cover and a further 8 for low level cover. The operation was executed on the 20th and the aircraft encountered light, inaccurate flak which caused light damage to one Avenger which was unable to drop it's mine. Of the 8 other mines laid in Kara Sound 7 were placed correctly. All aircraft returned to their carriers safely and the force returned to Scapa Flow departing the area the same evening. PURSUER was not in port long, she was back at sea on the 22nd for another operation off the Norwegian coast.
 

Operation PROVIDENT called for air attacks against coastal convoys between Mosjoen and Rorvik off the Norwegian coast. There were two groups of ships for this operation, Force 7 comprised of the Fleet Carrier IMPLACABLE (Flag, C.i.C  Home Fleet), Cruiser DIDO, Destroyers MYNGS (D23) SCORPION, SCOURGE, ZEPHYR,  and Canadian Destroyers ALGONQUIN and SIOUX. Force 8 comprised of the Cruiser DEVONSHIRE, CVEs PREMIER, PURSUER, Destroyers SAUMAREZ (6), VOLAGE, ZEALOUS, VENUS, and VIGILANT.

The force ran into heavy weather by the 24th which hampered operations; severe gales brought winds of 60+ knots over the flight deck and all aircraft on the CVEs had to be securely lashed down in the hanger. Bothe PREMIER and PURSUER suffered damage to their flight decks as the heavy seas and winds tore away planking and bent steel support struts; unable to operate aircraft both carriers, in company with DEVONSHIRE with an escort of five destroyers, returned to Scapa, arriving there on the evening of the 25th. IMPLACABLE and her escorts remained at sea and did manage to engage enemy shipping.

On arrival back at Scapa 881 squadron were flown ashore to RNAS Grimsetter  on November 27th.PURSUER was scheduled to undergo a refit in the US Navy Dock Yard at Norfolk, Virginia in December and she sailed at 08:00 the following day for the Clyde, escorted by ZODIAC and CARRON.

Detachments and deployments with Home Fleet Carriers December 1944 – March 1945

The squadron was to operate out of RNAS Grimsetter for the next two months. Two detachments were embarked for Operation URBANE; 2 aircraft joining the CVE TRUMPETER on the 4th and 10 aircraft joining the Fleet Carrier IMPLACABLE on December 5th.
 

Wildcats landing on TRUMPETER during operation URBANE. @ IWM A 26806

Operation URBANE called for a shipping strike off Hagesund and an air mine laying sortie in Kara Sound. Force 1, comprising the Feet carrier IMPLACABLE, Cruiser DIADEM, Escort Carriers TRUMPETER and PREMIER, Destroyers ZAMBESI, SAVAGE, VIGILANT, ZEALOUS, SERAPIS, SIOUX, ALGONQUIN and Norwegian destroyer STORD sailed from Scapa on December 6th. For this operation PREMIER carried only Avengers; her own 12 aircraft were joined by a detachment of 5 from TRUMPETER’s 846 Squadron which were displaced by 10 Wildcat fighters 8 from 856 and 2 from 881 squadron which were to operate from TRUMPETER for this operation.

The force set sail on the 6th and were in position to begin operations on the 7th with aircraft being launched in the afternoon. PREMIER’s Avengers successfully laid 10 mines while the Wildcats attacked several targets, including a factory, a shore battery and a radar station. On the 8th aircraft carried out attacks on shipping between Bergen and Stavanger before Force 1 disengaged and headed for Scapa Flow, arriving back there on the morning of the 9th. The 881 detachment in IMPLACABLE returned to RNAS Grimsetter on this date. One Wildcat of the IMPLACABLE detachment was lost on the 8th, while preparing to strike it down into the hangar JV677 ('UP') was blown over and badly damaged, it was jettisoned overboard. Another was damaged on TRUMPETER  on the 8th, JV678 ('UT') suffered tail damage when a Seafire being moved by the deck party collided with it.

The detachment in TRUMPETER was increased to 5 aircraft on the 12th and a further detachment of 2 aircraft embarked in PREMIER on the 11th for Operation LACERATE. On embarking in PREMIER Sub-Lt Park in JV720 ('UX') taxied into an aircraft parked forward causing minor damage to both machines.
 

Operation LACERATE was another mine laying sortie and shipping strike. The ships for this operation formed Force 2, comprising the Cruiser DEVONSHIRE, CVEs TRUMPETER and PREMIER, HM Destroyers ZEALOUS, ZEPHYR, and HM Canadian Destroyers ALGONQUIN and SIOUX. Force 2 put to sea on December 12th, this time 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. A planned second phase of air minelay operations in Skatestromme on the 15th were cancelled when severe gales again 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 881 Squadron detachment on PREMIER was disembarked on reaching Scapa.

The detachment in TRUMPETER flew ashore on December 18th, only to re-embark on the 20th with 7 aircraft for Operation FRETSAW. While embarking Sub-Lt Leeson in JV682 ('UB') successfully caught a wire, but the tail came down heavily breaking the tail oleo strut.
 

Operation FRETSAW was an operation against German shipping along the coast of German-occupied Norway and aimed to destroy enemy shipping around Stadlandet. Force 4 comprised of the Cruisers DIADEM (Flag, CS10), NORFOLK, and MAURITIUS, CVE TRUMPETER, Destroyers MYNGS, OBEDIENT, ORWELL, SAVAGE, SCORPION, SERAPIS, ZEALOUS, and HMCS SIOUX sailed from Scapa on December 21st. No shipping was encountered and a demonstration of force was made in that area to create alarm and to disrupt enemy convoy arrangements. The force arrived back at Scapa on the 23rd. The 881 detachment disembarked on the 24th.

The squadron celebrated Christmas at RNAS Grimsetter before a detachment of 10 aircraft re-joined TRUMPETER on New Year’s Eve for her next operation. . There were two flying incidents while the squadron was operating from RNAS Grimsetter, both involving Wildcat JV676 ('UK'); on December 29th the aircraft ) Weathercocked after landing in a cross-wind damaging the starboard wingtip, The pilot, Lt L. Calvert, RNVR was OK. On January 18th 1945 Sub-Lt L. M. Bateman, RNVR ran into soft ground while taxying and the aircraft tipped on its nose.
 

Operation SAMPLER called for a night sweep to locate and sink German shipping in the Leads between Sildegabet and Bradsmund just off the west coast of German-occupied Norway. The small force comprised of the Cruiser BERWICK, Escort Carriers TRUMPETER (846 Sqn - 8 Avenger & 881 Sqn 10 Wildcat), and NAIRANA (835 Sqn – 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcats), Destroyers CARRON, ONSLAUGHT, OBEDIENT, ORWELL, ZEALOUS, and ZEST. The operation was cancelled owing to continuing adverse weather and the small force arrived back at Scapa on January 5th. There was one landing accident on the 3rd, JV704 ('UC') flown by Sub-Lt W. P. Hughes RNZNVR suffered an undercarriage collapse. The 881 detachment returned to RNAS Grimsetter.
 

Operations SPELLBINDER & GRATIS PREMIER and TRUMPETER  were assigned to Force 3 for the next operation scheduled for January 12th. On the 9th a detachment of 14 Wildcats of 881 Squadron was embarked in PREMIER and 4 in TRUMPETER to supplement the fighter capability. The ships of the Home Fleet were divided into separate forces for this operation; Force 1, Cruisers NORFOLK and BELLONA, Destroyers ONSLOW, ONSLAUGHT and ORWELL. Force 2 comprises the mine laying cruiser APOLLO escorted by destroyers ZEALOUS and CARRON, and Force 3 comprising the Cruiser DIDO, CVEs PREMIER and TRUMPETER, and destroyer escorts OPPORTUNE, CAVENDISH, ZEST, and ZODIAC. The Fleet sailed on the 11th for the Norwegian coast.

The forces spilt early on the 12th to conduct different aspects of operation "SPELLBINDER"; Force 1 conducted anti shipping attacks on convoys off Egersund, attacking a northbound enemy convoy of 7-8 ships attempting to enter Egersund. Force 2 proceeded to Karm Sound to lay mines off Utsira Island under the cover of a smoke screen generated by her destroyer escorts, Force 3 proved air cover for Force 2 and anti-submarine sweeps. Wildcats from PREMIER and TRUMPETER shoot down one Ju 88 and drove off approaching torpedo bombers. On completion Force 1 withdrew to Scapa Flow.

On the 13th 7 Avengers form PREMIER and 7 from TRUMPETER carried out aerial mine laying in Karmoysund, Haugesund during operation "GRATIS"; they flew off at 10:00 escorted by 16 Wildcats. The mission meet with little resistance and all aircraft were recovered by 11:30. Once all aircraft had landed Force 3 withdrew to Scapa Flow. The TRUMPETER detachment flew ashore on the 14th. PREMIER was next allocated to Operation CHARLTON planned for January 22nd.
 

Operation CHARLTON was another aerial minelaying operation in the Lepsøyrev, Harmsfjord, Skatestrommen and Årumsund areas of German-occupied Norway. The Force comprised the Cruiser DIDO, Escort Carriers CAMPANIA (813 Sqn, 8 Swordfish & 8 Wildcats), PREMIER , and TRUMPETER , Destroyers ONSLOW (D17), ORWELL, ONSLAUGHT, OPPORTUNE, ZEST, ZEALOUS sailed from Scapa on the 22nd. The operation was abandoned due to severe weather, the force arrived back art Scapa on the 25th. PREMIER was next allocated to participate in Operation WINDED.
 

Operation WINDED called for a night attack on shipping near Vaagso, Norway, during a full moon period, The force comprised of CAMPANIA (813 Sqn, 8 Swordfish & 8 Wildcats, NAIRANA (835 Sqn 14 Swordfish & 6 Wildcat), PREMIER (856 Sqn 8 Avenger & 12 Wildcat), and the Cruiser BERWICK, escorted by Destroyers MYNGS (D23), ALGONQUIN (RCN), CAVENDISH, SIOUX (RCN), SCORPION, and SCOURGE. For this cooperation an additional 4 Wildcats from 842 NAS were added to CAMPANIA’s air group. Six of her Swordfish were armed with 8 x 25lb solid headed rocket projectiles each for the strike and four more carried flares. PREMIER was to provide fighter and anti-submarine cover for the force and patrols were flown throughout. . The Swordfish from CAMPANIA, and NAIRANA were launched at 20:00 to attack shipping off the Norwegian coast; 4 enemy merchant ships were hit and damaged by bombs and rockets, all aircraft recovered by 24:00 hours. The force withdrew in the early hours of January 29th and entered Scapa Flow that evening.

 

The aircraft of 881 still embarked in PREMIER  were to have participated in one more operation, Operation KITCHEN planned for February 3rd, to lay more aerial mines in Salhusstrommen. The Force comprised the Cruiser DIDO, CVEs PREMIER and TRUMPETER, and destroyer escorts SCORPION, ZODIAC and Canadian Destroyers ALGONQUIN, and SIOUX sailed on the 3rd but the operation was abandoned owing to weather and they returned to Scapa on the 4th. The 881 Sqn aircraft were flown ashore to RNAS Skeabrae on the 5th; the main body of the squadron had moved there on January 28th.

The squadron now switched to operating with the CVE PUNCHER, embarking 12 aircraft on February 9th in preparation for joining Force 2 for the next round of Home Fleet operations.
 

Operation SELENIUM I & II: February 12th - 13th 1945  PUNCHER put to sea on the 11th for her first operation with elements of the Home Fleet, strikes against shipping off Norway, operation "SELENIUM" I & II. The ships sailed in two forces to conduct two strikes, the first involving both Forces, the second being conducted by Force 2 alone. Force 1 comprised the Cruisers NORFOLK and DIDO with a destroyer screen of MYNGS, ZAMBESI and SAVAGE. Force 2 comprised the Cruiser DEVONSHIRE, escort carriers PREMIER (856 Sqn, 8 Avenger & 8 Wildcat) and PUNCHER (821 Sqn, 9 Barracuda & 881 Sqn, 12 Wildcat), destroyers CAVENDISH, CAVALIER, SCOURGE, and ZEBRA.

On the night of the 11th Force 1 was prepared for phase one, a night shipping strike off Bud, aircraft from Force 2 conducted searches but no targets were found and the force withdrew. The following day phase two was carried out by Force 2, 7 Avengers from PREMIER and 9 Barracudas from PUNCHER, escorted by Wildcats from both carriers carried a successful aerial mine laying sortie in Skatestraumen. This mission was particularly difficult as the channel to be mined was extremely narrow between 3,000ft cliffs; one

There were two deck landing crashes on PUNCHER on return from the mission, both involved Wildcats of 881 Sqn; JV693 ('UR') flown by Sub-Lt A. P. Berry, RNVR drifted into the starboard catwalk and JV715 ('UG') flown by Sub-Lt Gibson landed into the sun and the trail hit the rounddown, broking off the tail wheel and arrester hook, the impact caused the aircraft’s guns to fire as it continued on into the barrier. The rounds wounded 3 members of the deck party and badly damaged Barracuda MD839 in the aircraft park. Force 2 withdrew to Scapa Flow once all aircraft were recovered.

881 disembarked their Wildcats to RNAS Skeabrae on the 14th while the ship remained moored in the flow preparing for her next operation. The respite was short lived however as the squadrons re-embarked on the 17th; 3 aircraft Wildcats joined PREMIER to enhance the fighter flight of 856 Sqn.
 

Operations SHRED and GROUNDSHEET February 21st - 23rd 1945: On February 21st PREMIER (856 Sqn, 8 Avenger & 8 Wildcat) and PUNCHER (821 Sqn, 9 Barracuda & 881 Sqn, 12 Wildcat) put to sea as part of Force 4 operating with the Cruiser DIDO and Destroyers CAVALIER, MYNGS and SCORPION as escorts to conduct two concurrent operations "SHRED" was a minesweeping run through a suspected German minefield off Stavanger by vessels of the 10th Minesweeping Flotilla, HM Ships COURIER, JEWEL, SERENE, WAVE, HARE, and GOLDEN FLEECE. The Minesweepers supported by Force 4 sailed in the early hours of February 21st. The operation was successfully carried out although no mines bobbed to the surface.

GROUNDSHEET commenced in the forenoon of February 22nd, this operation was another aerial mine laying sortie. This time the Barracudas of 821 squadron were carrying the mines while Wildcats from both carriers provided the escorts and top cover; nine Barracuda MK IIIs fitted with Rocket Assisted Rake-off Gear (RATOG) and eight Wildcats were launched from PUNCHER, and a further eight Wildcats from PREMIER.

The planes made landfall over the heavily defended town of Stavanger instead of their intended waypoint of Utsire as a result of this navigation error the minelayers and the fighters lost each other. Two Barracudas were shot down by German flak killing both crews; MD846 Pilot Lt. Payne, Observer Sub-Lt D. M. King, RNVR & Leading Airman H.J. Brooks, and MD838, Pilot Lt. L. W. E. Maffey, RNZNVR, Observer Sub-Lt J. B. Watson, RNVR & Leading Airman N. F. W. Smee. The remaining seven successfully laid their mines in Karmoy Channel. The fighters destroyed a Dornier 24 flying boat at its moorings and strafed two silo type buildings on the waterfront at Stavanger. After recovering aircraft the force withdrew and headed for Scapa. Arriving on the 23rd.

The PREMIER detachment disembarked to RNAS Skeabrae on the 23rd and were followed by those from PUNCHER on the 25th. The whole squadron relocated to RNAS Hatston on March 2nd 1945 to await the return of PURSUER later in the month; they embarked in her on the 23rd, [3]


 

Re-equipping with Hellcats for service with the East Indies Fleet.

On March 31st she sailed from the Clyde in company with the new Aircraft Maintenance carrier PIONEER for Gibraltar with convoy KMF.42 which arrived there on April 7th. She sailed from Gibraltar on April 9th for Durban via Freetown and Cape Town; there were no convoys for Freetown on this date so it is assumed she travelled independently with her escorts.

On arrival at Cape Town 881 squadron disembarked to RNAS Wingfield on April 26th, where it was to re-equip with 30 Hellcat IIs at the end of the month. Their machines were issued from stocks held by the RN Aircraft Repair Yard at Wingfield, most of them having been assembled and tested by the yard in recent months.

The squadron spent the most of May getting familiarised with the Hellcat, and the area, both on the ground and in the air before commencing exercises and armament practice in the Cape area. Tragedy struck on June 30th during a practise formation flight; JX976 flown by Chief Petty Officer J. F. Drummond collided with JX989 flown by Sub-Lt B. Morrill, RNVR 1 mile E of Young's Field airfield, the two aircraft crashed killing both pilots.

Hellcat FB.IIs fly past the quarter deck at RNAS Wingfield, HMS MALAGAS, Cape Town with Table mountain in the background.

 

Squadron Disbanded

Training continued throughout July and August until the Japanese surrender on August 15th. The squadron continued to fly until the beginning of September when it was deemed surplus to requirements. Their aircraft were handed over to the Storage Section at Wingfield on September 3rd.

There were only two other recorded flying incidents for the time at RNAS Wingfield; on July 10th Sub-Lt J. H. Radford, RNVR was taxying in JX921 when the strawboard wheel sank in soft ground causing the aircraft to slew to starboard and the wing dropped and the prop blades bit into the runway. On August 21st Sub-Lt K. A. Carter, RNVR burst a tyre on take-off in JX911 and the aircraft belly landed.

After handing over their aircraft the squadron personnel were given leave while awaiting new orders; they were to return home to the UK in the Troopship REINO DEL PACIFICO, she sailed from Cape Town on October 10th 1945. The squadron was officially disbanded on reaching the UK on October 27th.
 

 


 

 

Content revised: 12 December 2022

 

Primary information sources

Additional sources:

 

 

 

 

 Motto:  Ense constantor alto
'Steadfastly with winged sword'

 

 

 

 

Battle Honours

DIEGO SUAREZ z 1942

NORWAY 1944

ATLANTIC 1944

NORMANDY 1944

SOUTH FRANCE 1944

AEGEAN 1944

Aircraft Types

Martlet I Jun - Dec 41
Martlet II Jun 41 - Aug4 3

Fulmar   Mar - Apr 42
Martlet IV Oct 42- Aug4 3

Wildcat V Aug 43- Jun 44
Wildcat VI  Jun 44- Mar 45

Hellcat II Apr - Aug 45

 

Commanding Officers

Lt. Cdr (A) J.C. Cockburn RN 01 Jun 41

Lt. Cdr (A) R. A. Bird RN I Mar 1943

Lt. Cdr (A) D. R. B. Cosh RCNVR 27 Nov 1943

Lt. Cdr (A) L. A. Hordern DSC RNVR 25 Jun 1944

Lt. Cdr (A) C. Ballard RNVR 23 Oct 1944

Squadron disbanded  1 Sep 1945
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reminiscences

None

 

 

 

Gallery


None
 
 

 



 

 

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Search RN Research Archive materials on-line

A non-profit virtual museum hosting a variety of RN historical web pages and articles.