October 1943 - September 1944
Formation and work-up
No. 1838 squadron officially formed in the United States at US Naval Air Station
Brunswick, on October 1st 1943 as a single seater fighter squadron under the command of Lt. Cdr (A) F.B.P. Sanderson RNVR. Initial equipment was 10 Corsair Is. After familiarisation with the aircraft and equipment the squadron began training in earnest to prepare for active service.
Training included navigation exercises, low flying, formation flying and combat tactics.
Training progressed well, with only four recorded flying incidents; In October Sub-Lt W.J.R. Christie RNVR, flying in Corsair JT164 had to ditch his aircraft in the sea when it ran out of fuel after completing a formation flight exercise on the 22n and Sub-Lt L I.L. Apted RNVR, had to make a forced landing in a river after the engine of his Corsair, JT140, failed in flight on the 29th. On November 28th the squadron’s Commanding Officer Lt. Cdr F.P.B. Sanderson RNVR, in Corsair JT187, caught a wingtip on a pile of snow, swung off the runway and ran into deep snow., and on December 17th Sub-Lt E.J. Baxter RNZNVR, in Corsair JT179, braked on landing and swung to port, he opened up the throttle in an attempt to clear a snow bank, but crashed in rough ground on the airfield.
At the start of the New Year the Corsair Is were withdrawn Corsair IIs were issued in preparation for the squadron departing for the UK. The squadron flew to
USNAS Norfolk to carry out a day of Deck Landing Practice (DLP)
in Chesapeake Bay on January 8th 1944 (Possibly on
HMS BEGUM or
USS CHARGER). 1838 and their sister squadron 11837 were to make the voyage to the UK on the escort carrier
HMS BEGUM which was making her maiden Atlantic crossing after leaving her builders yard. On completion of their DLP sorties their aircraft were taxied through the streets of Norfolk, wings folded, to the dock side for loading one evening .
HMS BEGUM sailed from Norfolk on the afternoon of January 14th, and on arrival at New York on the 16th was moored at the 56th street pier, Brooklyn where she was taken in hand by the Bethlehem Steel company for voyage repairs; the work was completed on the following day. She next embarked more stores and passengers for the crossing to the UK. Also alongside in Brooklyn was the CVE
HMS TRUMPETER, she was making her third trip in the ferry role; both carriers left New York on January 18th to join convoy UT.7 for Liverpool.
BEGUM was carrying 60 aircraft (36 Corsair and 24 Avenger) 36 of which were lashed on the flight deck, the squadron aircraft were stowed in the hangar deck as these were to be unloaded last. She had 68 tons of stores and 194 service and 45 civilian passengers including a party of school children and their mothers who had been evacuated to Canada earlier in the war and were now returning home to the UK.
The Atlantic crossing was without incident and
TRUMPETER Split from the convoy off Oversay Island, Scotland on Friday January 28th and anchored in Liverpool Bay the following day. The passengers, stores and 36 airframes were disembarked during the weekend, leaving only the aircraft of the two operational squadrons on board.
BEGUM sailed for the Clyde on Monday January 31st and anchored in Rothesay Bay on February 1st. While on route to Rothesay Bay 1837 & 1838 squadrons disembarked, both flew off the ship, 1838 to RNAS Machrihanish on the 31st and 1837 to
Lancashire. 1838 moved to
RNAS Burscough the following day.
After a brief stay at
Burscough, both squadrons took leave before embarking for Ceylon in
HMS ATHELING on February 26th 1944. They disembarked to
the R.N. Air Section at R.A.F.
Minneriya on April 13th.
Operations with the Eastern Fleet, April – September 1944
The squadron was
to spend the next three months conducting flying training in Ceylon, embarking briefly in the Maintenance Carrier UNICORN on June 6th for two days of Deck Landing Training (DLT). There were two flying incidents during this time; on April 21st Sub-Lt N.A. Street flying Corsair JT223 bounced on landing at
Minneriya and his port wing dropped causing the aircraft to swing off the runway, the aircraft ended on its nose. On June 6th the C.O., Lt. Cdr F.P.B. Sanderson RNVR was the only pilot to have a crash on deck during the DLT period, although his aircraft Corsair JT252 caught a wire he was too far off centre and the port undercarriage went over the side.
Towards the end of July 1944 1838 was embarked in the Fleet Carrier VICTORIOUS for a strike against targets at Sabang, Sumatra, in Operation CRIMSON. This operation involved a naval bombardment and aerial strikes on Japanese airfields in the Indonesian cities of Sabang, Lhoknga and Kutaraja on the Island of Sumatra with carrier aircraft suppressing the airfields and providing air cover for the bombarding force. The force comprised of the Carriers VICTORIOUS and ILLUSTRIOUS, battleships QUEEN ELIZABETH, VALIANT, RENOWN, and the French battleship RICHELIEU, Cruisers CEYLON, CUMBERLAND, GAMBIA, NIGERIA, PHOEBE, and TROMP, with Destroyers QUALITY, QUICKMATCH, QUILLIAM, RACEHORSE, RAIDER, RAPID, RELENTLESS, ROCKET, ROEBUCK, and ROTHERHAM, supported by submarines TEMPLAR and TANTALUS. 1838 embarked on July 23rd when the force sailed from Trincomalee.
VICTORIOUS embarked 39 Corsair fighters, 1834, 1836 and 1838 squadrons (1838 had 11 aircraft).
ILLUSTRIOUS retained the same 57 aircraft she had embarked for the earlier operation PEDAL; 15 Barracudas, from 810 squadron, with 42 Corsairs (14 each) from 1830 & 1833, (15th Naval Fighter Wing) and 1837 squadron.
The carriers launched their first strike aircraft from a position 35 miles north of Sabang before dawn, at 0530 on the morning of July 25th. ILLUSTRIOUS launched 18 Corsairs, while VICTORIOUS sent up 16. Eight from each carrier was tasked with attacking Sabang airfield (RAMROD). Two from Illustrious were sent to attack a radar/radio station. The remainder were to form a CAP over the bombardment ships.
The launch had been planned for pre-dawn to allow the strike sorties to approach out of the dawn, but this was delayed because the fight deck parties struggled to range the aircraft in the darkness. Launch was 5 minutes late and further delay came when the strike groups attempted to assemble before setting off for the coast. 1838 squadron’s aircraft set out on the wrong course, and struggled to locate the target in the darkness using old maps. Errors in the planning soon became apparent; it was still dark as the RAMROD aircraft struck at 0600 and straffed their targets, the airfields of Sabang, Lho Nga and Kotaraj; they faced intense anti-aircraft fire and targets were difficult to identify in the pre-dawn light. Nevertheless, two Japanese aircraft were claimed destroyed, and two damaged, on the ground. One damaged Corsair limped over the coast and out to sea where the pilot was rescued.
Aircraft then acted as bombardment spotters for the Battleships which commenced fire at 0655. Two small ships were sunk, oil facilities were set alight and harbour infrastructure destroyed. The force withdrew at 0930, and two Japanese aircraft tried to shadow, but both were intercepted and shot down. Four of ILLUSTRIOUS' 1833 squadron Corsairs, JT207, JT282, JT284, and JT297 also claimed a Ki-21 'Sally' shot down into the sea and exploded 20 miles West of Sabang, at 0930. Later that afternoon a group of 10 A6M ‘Zero’ or Ki-43 ‘Oscar’ fighters was detected on radar approaching the Force, 50 miles out. They were engaged by a group of 13 Corsairs. Sub-Lt F.B. Hoffer RNZNVR and Sub-Lt FG.L. Morgan RCNVR, from 1838, each shot down one ‘Zero’. Two others were damaged in the exchange. Two of 1837s’ aircraft were involved in the aerial combat, both being flown by pilots from 1830 squadron, Lt P.S. Cole in ’7F’ engaged 2 A6Ms at 1805, 1 pulled up in steep climb and was lost to view, the other crashed into the sea with its tail missing, Sub-Lt H.D. Whelpton in ‘7K’ claimed an A6M shot down into the sea at 1815. The Force arrived back at Ceylon on the 27th and 1838 flew ashore to
RNAS Colombo Racecourse. This short operation was the squadron’s only combat operation, earning them the Battle Honour ‘Sabang’.
On August 25th 1944, 1838 squadron embarked in
for passage to Cape Town, South Africa. On arrival there on September 12th the squadron disembarked to
RNAS Wingfield; it was officially disbanded the following day. Its aircraft and personnel were absorbed by 1830 and 1833 Squadrons to enlarge the 15th Naval Fighter Wing.
It was planned to reform 1833 in November 1945 with 15 Corsairs for a 5th Carrier Air Group in the British Pacific Fleet, but this was cancelled after VJ-Day.
date of January 19th is given for the 1837 & 1838 squadrons
BEGUM but this must be an error- the ship had sailed from New York in convoy UT.7 on the 18th. The ship was also carrying 36 American aircraft as a ferry load which would have been embarked at Norfolk Naval Operating Base. Usual practice was to load the squadron aircraft first and to stow them in the hangar, then load the preserved airframes for delivery as deck cargo. On arrival at New York
BEGUM was carrying 60 aircraft (24 squadron Corsairs, plus 12 Corsairs and 24 Avengers as deck cargo). It is therefore assumed that the date of loading was
sometime between February 9th and 13th 1944.
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23 November 2018
Sources used in compiling this account:
Sturtivant, R. & Burrows, M. (1995) 'Fleet Air Arm
Aircraft 1939 to 1945' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain
Sturtivant, R & Balance, T., (1994) 'Squadrons of the
Fleet Air Arm' Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries
Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries