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Motto: None

 


Pennant Number:


 

D73 (Atlantic)

R309 (Indian Ocean)

 


Battle Honours:


Atlantic 1943-45

Norway 1944-45

Aegean 1944

Normandy 1944

South France 1944

 


Specifications: 


Builder:

Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula,

Mississippi


Displacement:

14,170 tons


length (Overall):

 486ft


Beam:

 69 ft 6 in


Draught:

 26 ft


Speed:

Speed:

 18 knots


Crew Complement:

646


A/C Capacity:

20


Commanding Officers:


Lt. Cdr. C.G. Hudson RN 
May 42- Mar 43

 

***


Capt. H.R. Graham RN 
Mar 43- Mar 44

 

***

Capt. T. L. Bratt RN 
Mar 44 - Feb 46

 


Squadrons:


896
Nov 43-June44
Wildcat V

 

881
Nov 43-Nov 44
Wildcat V & VI

 

881
March-April 45
Wildcat VI

 

898

Hellcat FB.II

July - Aug 1945

 



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A History of HMS PURSUER

 

HMS PURSUER moored after arriving back at Greenock © IWM (A 22179)

 

 

HMS PURSUER started out as an 11,900 ton Maritime Commission C3-S-A1 type freighter built by the Ingalls Shipbuilding Corp., Pascagoula, Mississippi; Maritime Commission hull number 163, Ingalls hull number 296.  She was ordered as the S.S. MORMACLAND for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines and her keel was laid down on July 31st 1941. The hull was requisitioned by the US Navy on January 7th 1942 for conversion to an Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier; the ship name USS ST. GEORGE, AVG-17, was promulgated but was cancelled on March 17th 1942 when it was decided that AVG-17 was to be transferred to the United Kingdom on loan. AVG–17 was launched July 18th 1942 by her sponsor Mrs. Mary Ann S. Bartma. In line with US Navy policy she was redesignated ACV-17 on August 20th 1942.

 

After completion and builder’s sea trials she was delivered to the US Navy on June 14th 1943. She was transferred to the Royal Navy on the same date and commissioned at Pascagoula later that day as HMS PURSUER, pennant number D73, Captain H. R. Graham RN in command. Later that day she put to sea and proceeded to the US Navy Ammunition depot at New Orleans, Louisiana to embark her allocation of gun and small arms ammunition.


Modification and fitting out at Norfolk Navy Yard

PURSUER sailed from Pascagoula on June 19th, calling first at Mobile to embark fuel before sailing on the 20th for Norfolk Navy Yard. On reaching Norfolk at 10:40 on June 28th she was taken in hand for modification work and final fitting out. This work included her being dry-docked, the Installation of 4 heavy AA mounts, 4 directors and cartridge case chutes. The Provision of additional protection for bomb stowage, installation of air conditioning units, engine revolution telegraph and control switches for gasoline pump room. Completed installation of pitometer log and underwater log system, radar control and captain's command announcing system. and modification of the ship’s propeller. Her US designation became CVE-17 July 15th, 1943.

 

On completion of the dockyard work on July 17th she departed at 15:10 and arrived at Pier No.5 at 16:10. After storing ship she sailed at 06:16 on July 20th for post modification shakedown. On the 23rd she carried out armament trials in Chesapeake Bay beginning at 10:50 shooting at a high speed target towed by the USS KEWAYDIN at 500 yards; the first run was completed at 11:32. A second, night shoot commenced at 21:15, this time at 800 yards, securing at 21:55. On completion of the shakedown she returned to Pier No.5.


Ferry load, New York to Belfast: July - August 1943

HMS PURSUER departed Norfolk on July 26th bound for New York where she arrived the following day. She reported to the Army Port of embarkation, Staten Island to undergo voyage repairs, carried out by Bethlehem Steel Co., Mariner’s Wharf, and to load her ferry cargo. PURSUER embarked 62 USAAF P-47 Thunderbolts as deck cargo, their wing-tips, tail assemblies and propellers had been removed, and together with 62 cases of plane parts were stored on the hangar deck.

 

On completion of loading PURSUER put to sea to join the UK bound convoy HX.250 which departed New York at 19:00 on July 30th. This was a large convoy, eventually totalling 78 merchant ships, making the crossing to the UK. At 15:30 on August 6th the fast section of the convoy, PURSUER, BERWICKSHIRE, NOESANIWI, AMERICAN PRESS, O. M. BERNUTH, NUEVA GRANADA, BAYANO and EL COSTON detached in position 51° 27’N 41° 05’W and proceeded to Belfast. PURSUER arrived in Belfast on August 11th and docked at Airport Wharf, Sydenham Airfield. Off-loading was handled by the local stevedores, US Army personnel and Lockheed employees; work started at 08:00 on August 11th and was finished at 11:45 the following day – a total of 12 hours and 10 minutes of actual working time was involved


Modification to RN Standards at Liverpool and Working-up: August Ė November 1943

After unloading stores and equipment carried from New York PURSUER proceeded to Liverpool for further modification work to be carried out by Messrs. Harland and Wolff to bring her equipment to RN standards.  On completion of her modifications PURSUER sailed for Greenock on November 16th to work up.
 

November 26th PURSUER sailed for Belfast to embark aircraft and undergo repairs. PURSUER was outfitted as a fighter carrier and was to operate two Wildcat squadrons, 881 and 896 each with 10 aircraft, and they formed part of the new 7th Naval Fighter Wing. The 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 the fighter carriers, 881 and 896 for PURSUER and 882 and 898 for SEARCHER. 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.

 

The work-up period began with a tragedy on the first day when Sub-Lt DC 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 AA 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 on January 10th 1944; the pilot Sub-Lt DLW Frearson RNVR, was OK.


Operations with Western Approaches Command: February 1944

On completion of her work-up PURSUER was allocated for deployment in the 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).

 

During this period there were several flying incidents; on February 8th Lt. AC Martin RNZNVR (896) flew JV409 into the barrier, on the 19th Sub-Lt. A.N. Pym (896) made a barrier crash and overturned in JV435, and on the 26th Sub-Lt. D Symons (896) flying in JV421 suffered from falling fuel pressure and ditched, he was rescued by HMS SCARBOROUGH. One enemy aircraft was destroyed at 19:30 on the 12th when Sub-Lt. TLM Brander (881) in Wildcat JV429 ('2N') attacked a Heinkel He 177 which blew up.

 

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, 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. On release from Atlantic convoy defence on March 6th PURSUER returned to the Clyde.


Operations with the Home Fleet: March - June 1944

HMS 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.

 

April 1944, Operation TUNGSTEN - above PURSUER with FURIOUS in the background

 

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

 

Operation PITCHBOWL 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. PURSUER sailed from Scapa On Friday April 21st in company with ANSON (VA, 2IC Home Fleet), ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers), VICTORIOUS, FURIOUS, EMPEROR, SEARCHER, STRIKER, KENT, JAMAICA, URSA, UNDAUNTED, WAKEFUL, WIZARD, SERAPIS, JAVELIN, VENUS, VIGILANT, SIOUX, ALGONQUIN, PIORUN, SWIFT, KEMPENFELT, and KELVIN. An attack on TIRPITZ, involving 40 Barracudas and 40 escort fighters, was again cancelled because of bad weather conditions on the 24th.  The weather situation improved sufficiently for the next round of operations to be carried out on the 26th, this was operation RIDGE ABLE.

 

Operation RIDGE ABLE saw PURSUER, in company with the Fleet carriers VICTORIOUS and FURIOUS, and the CVEs EMPEROR, SEARCHER, and STRIKER,  conduct attacks on enemy shipping in Bodo and Rorvik areas respectively. A second stage, codename RIDGE BAKER had to be cancelled, again due to bad weather. However "RIDGE ABLE" did result in 3 ships sunk off Bodo and a 4th damaged. The force arrived back at Scapa on the 28th, PURSUER being released from her detached duties she sailed on April 30th for Liverpool to undergo repairs.


Repairs and anti-submarine sweeps in support of Operation NEPTUNE: May -June 1944

On reaching Liverpool Bay on May 1st both 881 and 896 squadron disembarked to RNAS Burscough, Lancashire where they remained until the ship out to sea again at the start of June. Detachments from 881 were operated from HMS FURIOUS during this period.

 

HMS 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.

 

June 1944 - a wildcat is prepared for launch during anti-submarine sweeps off the Western approaches in support of the D-Day landings in Normandy. For this operation all allied aircraft are sporting 'invasion stripes' to identify them as friendly forces.

 

On June 5th had all available hands employed to paint all the aircraft with the black and white "Bumble Bee" reorganization stripes that all allied aircraft were to wear for the invasion. On June 8th 896 squadron lost another pilot; Sub-Lt. JM 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 AC 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. [1]


Reallocated for operations with the Mediterranean Fleet

PURSUER spent the period June 12th to July 15th based on the Clyde, conducting exercises and drills in preparation for sailing to Malta to conduct operations in the Mediterranean.
 

The CVEs PURSUER, 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 [2].

 

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 HMS ATTACKER joined the convoy. The convoy arrived at Grand Harbour, Malta 08:51 July 25th.

 

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


Operation DRAGOON

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, EMPEROR, KHEDIVE,  PURSUER, and SEARCHER, TYRIAN, TEAZER, TROUBRIDGE (Screen Commander), and US Ships JEFFERS, H.P. JONES, MARSH, NIRLACK and MURPHY. TG 88.2 HM Ships HUNTER, STALKER, and two US CVEs, USS TULAGI (Rear Admiral Durgin USN , CTG 88.2)and USS KAZAN BAY.

 

PURSUER sailed for tactical exercises off Malta with TG88.1 on August 1st. he group consisting of: HMS ROYALIST, COLOMBO, ATTACKER, EMPEROR, KHEDIVE,  PURSUER, and SEARCHER, TYRIAN, TEAZER, TROUBRIDGE, and USS JEFFERS, H.P. JONES, MARSH, NIRLACK and MURPHY, Put to sea at 07:30 on August 1st. At 1940 Ships of the Task Group conducted a barrage fire exercise. The force continued to exercise off Malta between August 1st and 12th.

 

Task Force 88 sailed from Malta at 17:45 on Saturday August 12th. On the morning of the 14th PURSUER fuelled the Destroyer TYRIAN. Prior to sailing for DRAGOON four spare Hellcats 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, TF 88 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-Raphël). 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.

 

The two Task Groups operated together for the first five days of the operation, TG 88.1 withdrew late on the 19th and took passage overnight to Maddalena, Sardinia, to refuel and rearm (KHEDIVE transferred to TG 882 to bolster that force). Arriving at dawn men were allowed ashore to have a short rest & recuperation period before she sailed that evening to return to the beachhead. Arriving at the flying off point, a position south of Marseilles, on the 21st. During this time TG 88.2 had remained off the coast providing air cover, they withdrew to Maddalena taking passage at 21:00 on the 21st.


 

August 1944 Wildcat aircraft on the deck of PURSUER: immediately astern are ATTACKER, KHEDIVE and TG 88.1 flagship, the cruiser ROYALIST. © IWM A25184

 

There were several accidents and incidents during the nine days of DRAGOON operations: On the 15th JV691 ('X') landed on fast and with nose down, caught no. 1 wire but slipped off after pulling out only 6 feet, hook then engaged no. 3 wire but after pulling out 20 feet slipped again, continued into the barrier and overturned. The pilot, Sub-Lt D Symonds RNVR was OK, but the aircraft was a write-off and was ditched overboard. At 11:00 two Wildcats failed to locate the carrier force before running out of fuel, Sub-Lieutenants WTR Smith RNVR and RP Gibson RNVR made successful forced landings in the sea. Both pilots were rescued by Catalina at 12:50 and taken to Ajaccio, on the west coast of Corsica, from where they made their way across the Island to Casabianda aerodrome. From there they re-joined the ship at tea-time the following afternoon in two of the reserve Wildcats held at the station.

 

At approximately 11:00 on the 19th Sub-Lt R Banks in Wildcat JV669 took serious damage when his engine was hit by flak when attacking an airfield near Avignon, he successfully managed to ditch in the River Rhone. He managed to evade capture and returned to the ship on the 24th

 

At approximately 11:00 on the 21st Petty Officer Pilot R Brittain went missing when his aircraft, JV668 lost contact with his flight returning to the ship from a Fighter Bomber mission; he was presumed killed cause unknown. A further 20 aircraft suffered damage from enemy action during the operation, mainly from fire from the ground while attacking targets; one 'spotter' was hit by a 40mm shell and one aircraft. JV646 was a barrier crash after catching No. 7 wire on the 19th.

 

On leaving the UK PURSUER was desperately short of aircraft spares, a problem exasperated by the fact that her squadron was re-equipping with Wildcat Vis. This variant had a different engine; a Wright Cyclone as opposed to the Pratt & Whitney Wasp in the 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 Ta Kali and all removable fittings, including the wings, being utilised to keep aircraft serviceable while at sea.

 

During Operation DRAGOON the ship also acted as a spare deck on occasions where other carrier decks were fouled; 9 Seafires, 2 wildcats, 4 Hellcats and one Walrus were landed on during these periods. At one point 6 Seafires had to remain aboard and this caused considerable problems as PURSUER had none of the equipment, spanners and fold bars, necessary to fold their wings - this caused delays in operating her Wildcats as the Seafires could not be taken below.

 

TG 88.1 withdrew late on the 24th and took passage overnight to Maddalena; PURSUER and the ships of TG 88.1 were released from DRAGOON operation on Sunday August 27th. During nine days of operations HMS PURSUER' s aircraft carried out 62 Spotter sorties, 86 Fighter Bomber sorties (dropping 19 tons of bombs), 24 Beach cover sorties, and 8 Force cover sorties. Total sorties flown 180, total flying hours 365 hours 15 minutes.

 

HMS PURSUER left Maddalena to proceed to Alexandria on the 28th, and arrived there on September 1st.


Operations in the Aegean Sea: September 1944

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, EMPERORHUNTER, KHEDIVE, PURSUER, SEARCHER, 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 Seafire and Wildcat fighter-bombers from PURSUER and SEARCHER attacked vehicles on the roads of Crete and sank four caiques and damaged a further six with bombs. Three of 881 squadrons Wildcats were damaged by flak, JV677 ('UP') Sub-Lt RP Gibson RNVR, JV696 ('UQ') Sub-Lt TLM Brander) RNVR, and JV706 (UD') Sub-Lt DLW Frearson RNVR, but returned safely They also strafed transport ashore and spotted for shore bombardment

 

Armed reconnaissance sorties were flown over the islands of Milos and Thia, and on the 19th the force carried out dive-bombing of targets on Rhodes; targets included 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 sunken end a Radio Station and 1,000 ton merchant ship was damaged. Operation OUTING was completed on the 20th and PURSUER and other carriers of the force returned to Alexandria for replenishment. Pursuer's Wildcats had flown 136 sorties.


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 the 12th; 881 squadron was flown off to RAF Long Kesh on route.

 

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


 

Fighter pilots of 896 squadron in PURSUERís briefing room check over the details of their next operation with their CO Lt Cdr L A Hordern © IWM (A 23053)

 

Operation STEAK had two Objectives, first to give fighter cover for operation COUNTERBLAST on the night of 12th/13th conducted by HM Ships KENT, BELLONA, MYNGS, VERULAM, ZAMBESI, and HMCS ALGONQUIN to attack enemy shipping off the south-west coast of Norway, where the absence of fjords and off shore islands forced shipping out into the open. On completion of this phase an attack by fighter aircraft on shipping in the Vingvaagen anchorage and an anti-shipping sweep off the Leads to westward were carried out. The force, HM Ships EURYALUS, PURSUER, CAESAR (Captain (D) 6th Destroyer Flotilla), NUBIAN, VENUS, ZEPHYR sailed on November 9th but were forced to return to Scapa due to bad weather; they sailed again on the 12th to rendezvous with the COUNTERBLAST force. PURSUER's aircraft sunk one trawler, another was set on fire. And a Radar Station was bombed. The force returned to Scapa on the 16th. There was one deck landing incident on the 14th, JV677 ('UP'), flown by Lt L Calvert crashed on deck when the undercarriage collapsed after failing to completely drop down.

 

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

 

Operation PROVIDENT called for air attacks against coastal convoys between Mosjoen and Rorvik off the Norwegian coast. There were two groups of ships for this operation, Force 7 comprised of IMPLACABLE (Commander in Chief, Home Fleet), DIDO, MYNGS (Captain (D) 23rd Destroyer Flotilla) SCORPION, SCOURGE, SIOUX, ZEPHYR, and ALGONQUIN. Force 8 comprised of DEVONSHIRE, PREMIER, PURSUER, SAUMAREZ (Captain (D) 26th Destroyer Flotilla), VOLAGE, ZEALOUS, VENUS, and VIGILANT.

 

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

 

On arrival back at Scapa 881 squadron were flown ashore to RNAS Grimsetter on November 27th. She sailed at 08:00 the following day for the Clyde, escorted by ZODIAC and CARRON, arriving on the 29th. Leave was granted.


Refit in the USA

PURSUER was scheduled to undergo a refit at Norfolk US Navy Dock Yard in December and she sailed in Convoy UC.48B which departed Liverpool on December 12th 1944. The crossing was a rough one, the already battered ship took even more damage before detaching from the convoy on December 23rd and proceeded to Norfolk where she arrived 18:30 on Christmas Day 1944. She was to undergo repairs and modification while at Norfolk, her accelerator and flight deck were repaired and she spent some time in dry dock. At 10:05 January 31st 1945 she sailed from Norfolk for a post refit shake-down in the Chesapeake Bay area - after which embarked ferry load of Corsair aircraft for transport to the UK. This load included the 18 Corsair IVs of 1831 squadron for ferrying to RNAS Eglinton.

 

Once her loading was complete PURSUER sailed from Norfolk at 17:39 on February 4th, escorted by the USS SIMPSON, for New York to join convoy CU.57. She arrived off New York at 16:20 on the 5th and joined with the convoy and escort force TG 61.5 for the Atlantic crossing. On the 15th PURSUER detached at 22:25 and proceeded to Belfast where her ferry load was disembarked to RNAS Belfast the following day.. She arrived on the Clyde on February 17th for voyage repairs.

 

The ship next made a round trip voyage to Scapa Flow in mid-March to embarked 881 squadron from RNAS Hatston; on the 23rd [3]. On returning to the Clyde on the 24th Captain T. L. Bratt, DSC assumed command of the ship.


Passage to Durban and a further refit: March - June 1845

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

 

On arrival at Cape Town 881 squadron disembarked to RNAS Wingfield April 26th, the squadron was to re-equip with 30 Hellcat IIs at the end of the month. On arrival at Durban PURSUER commenced her refit on May 3rd. She was ready for sea again at the start of July when she carried out post refit sea trials. She sailed for Colombo on July 7th, arriving there on the 25th.


 

HMS PURSUER on leaving Durban after her refit. She now sports  the Admiralty Light Pattern camouflage scheme. Photo: David Dixon


Operations with the East Indies Fleet

Upon her arrival at Ceylon HMS PURSUER was allocated No. 898 Hellcat squadron, their 24 aircraft flew out from RNAS Katukurunda to join her on July 29th while she was on passage to Trincomalee. The squadron disembarked to RNAS Trincomalee on August 1st when PURSUER joined the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron. The ship was allocated to participate in the upcoming Operation ZIPPER, the allied invasion of Malaya, and the squadron re-embarked on the 6th to conduct flying training and exercise with the ship. Petty Officer Pilot A.H. Key was killed on August 9th, when his arrestor hook bounced off the rounddown and the aircraft fell over the side into the sea. Sub Lt G. K. Taylor RNZNVR in JX709 also had a bouncing arrestor hook on the 16th; it missed No.4 wire but then engaged No.9 wire, into the barrier where its engine was stopped.


 

July1945 Hellcat JX698 of 898 squadron on PURSUER:'s forward lift, somewhere off Ceylon. Photo: David Dixon

 

After the Japanese surrender on August 15th operation ZIPPER was put on hold and PURSUER was released from the invasion force. On August 18th the ship was reassigned for duty as a Communications Ship during landings in Port Swettenham, part of a modified version of Operation ZIPPER, carried out as planned and rehearsed, but the covering air and sea bombardment had been cancelled. 898 squadron was flown ashore to RNAS Puttalam on the 18th. PURSUER embarked parties of Royal Marines for shore duties, as well as medical and air personnel.


Operation ZIPPER

PURSUER sailed from Trincomalee on September 5th and joined assault convoy JME1F on the 6th, later transferring to JME1S. At 0500 hours on the 8th NELSON in company with the light cruisers CEYLON and NIGERIA, escorted by destroyers NUBIAN, PALADIN and RELENTLESS sailed from George Town to cover the ZIPPER assault convoys on route to their assembly point off Port Swettenham: they were to be joined by the escort carriers EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE, and STALKER to provide air cover for the landings. The ZIPPER assault convoys converged on the Malayan coast off Port Swettenham and once assembled at first light on September 9th the ships of the assault convoys formed into two assault groups off Morib where the landings were to take place. PURSUER arrived off the beach head on September 9th and a Medical party was sent to the Store ship WING SANG which reported case of suspected Bubonic Plague, this later proved to be a glandular infection. After the initial landing PURSUER sailed up to Port Swettenham on the 10th where Captain T. L. Bratt DSC went ashore with 200 marines and accepted formal surrender of the local garrison.

 

PURSUER remained at Port Swettenham until she was released from ZIPPER operations and arrived back at Trincomalee on October 6th. She was to spend the next six weeks on local trooping voyages, before being released for return to the UK.
 

Return to the United Kingdom

The personnel of 898 squadron boarded HMS PURSUER as passengers on November 20th 1845 for passage home to the UK, their aircraft remained at RNAS Katukurunda. HMS PURSUER left Colombo on November 20th and arrived in the Clyde on December 12th; 898 squadron officially disbanded on this date. Once all passengers and stores were unloaded PURSUER was stood down from active service in preparation for her return to the US Navy on completion of de-storing and equipment removal.


Disposal: return to US custody February 1946

 HMS PURSUER sailed to Portsmouth for further equipment removal. sailed for passage to the U.S. Navy Dock Yard Norfolk, on January 16th 1946.  On arrival at U.S. Naval Base Norfolk she was decommissioned and CVE-17 was returned to US Navy custody on February 12th 1946. She was stricken for disposal on March 28th 1946. She was sold on May 14th 1946 to the Patapsco Steel Scrap Co., Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for breaking.


 


 

Notes:

[1] 800 absorbed 804 in EMPEROR, and 882 absorbed 898 in SEARCHER, leaving only three squadrons, but the same total number of aircraft in the Wing.

[2] PURSUER is recorded in the log of the USS TEXAS as not operational, EMPEROR, KHEDIVE, and SEARCHER had operational aircraft embarked. It is assumed that PURSUER had either embarked s load of spare aircraft sufficient to make flying operations impossible or her squadron was not fully operational.

[3] It is presumed that the squadron left its Wildcats behind at RNAS Hatston. There is no record of flying on route to South Africa, nor of any Wildcat aircraft being withdrawn at RNARY Wingfield. Some commentators list this as being 898 squadron equipped with Hellcats, however this squadron was already in Cape Town at this time. It is possible that PURSUER ferried a load of Hellcats for delivery to RNAMY Wingfield and this may have caused some confusion.

 

 


Content revised: 20 February 2017

Sources used in compiling this account:

Brown, D. (1974) 'Carrier Operations in World War 2- vol 1 the Royal Navy' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.

Hobbs, D. (2003) 'Royal Navy Escort Carriers' Liskeard, Maritime Books

Poolman, K. (1988) 'Allied Escort Carriers of World War Two in Action' London, Blandford Press

Poolman, K. (1972) 'Escort Carriers 1941 - 1945' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.

Sturtivant, R. & Burrows, M. (1995) 'Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

Sturtivant, R & Balance, T., (1994) 'Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

British officers (including Commonwealth officers serving in British units) Part of WWII Unit Histories and Officers web site.

Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, 1922-present A comprehensive resource listing service details of men and women killed in RN and RM service.

Convoy Web A comprehensive resource listing WW2 convoys and ships .

War Sailors Ships in Atlantic and miscellaneous convoys during WW2.

 

On-line archive Fold3.com various documents including;

Admiralty War Diaries

US Naval Station, Seattle, Washington

US Naval Station,  Manchester, Washington

Puget Sound  Navy Yard War Diaries

US Thirteenth Naval District War Diaries

Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries

Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries

Rear Admiral Escort Carriers Report of proceedings - Operation Dragoon

Miscellaneous documents

 

 

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Comments (1)

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Dave Dixon (Warrington, UK) says...
Fantastic job putting all my Dad's old photo's together, well done, thank you so much, Dave Dixon.
5th February 2017 3:44pm
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