September 1944 - August 1946
Formation and work-up
The personnel for 1851 Squadron assembled at
Townhill Camp in
July 1944, and sailed for the USA to form and train. The squadron officially formed on
September 1st 1944 at
as a single seat fighter squadron under the command of Lt.
Cdr (A) D.J. McDonald RN. The squadron was issued with 18 Corsair IVs.
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. On October 23rd the
squadron began practicing ADDLs (Aerodrome Dummy Deck
Landings) utilising the nearby US Naval Auxiliary Airfield
at Bar Harbour, Maine in preparation for the real thing at
sea later in the month, the returned to Brunswick on
November 1st. The squadron then briefly moved to
on the 7th to carry out DLT (Deck Landing Training) on
the training carrier the USS CHARGER, operating in
The first few months of flying was a difficult time for the
new pilots, many of whom were on their first operational
squadron; there were 8 aircraft accidents recorded during
the work up period. Three landing accidents happened during
the period at Bar Harbour; on October 25th Mid K.P. Shaw
RNVR in KD202 swerved after landing and the aircraft ended
on its nose, while Sub-Lt N.R. Hiller RNVR dropped his port
wing landing in KD215 causing damage. Sub-Lt K. Rosy RNVR
was forced to make wheels up landing on the 27th when his
Corsair, KD243, suffered hydraulic failure. Low flying
exercises resulted in a further four incidents, all the
result of hitting tree tops; on November 28th Sub-Lt H.A.W.
Smith RNVR damaged fabric and the underside of the port wing
of KD213, ('8V7'), named “Bacardi Cocktail”, Sub-Lt Hiller
hit a tree in KD271 on December 4th, Sub-Lt A. Hodgson RNVR
damaged the starboard cooler fairings of KD294 on the 5th,
and Sub-Lt Rosy clipped a tree on the 6th. All were
On completion of working up at
USNAS Brunswick 1851 flew to
USNAS Floyd Bennett Field on
December 23rd 1944, before continuing on to
on the 28th where the squadron personnel assembled and
embarked in the escort carrier
THANE alongside in
the Norfolk Naval Operating Base. On completing a load of 86
aircraft, 24 in the hangar and 62 as deck cargo
THANE sailed for New York at 10:00hrs on New Year’s Eve
1944. After a difficult passage through fog and later gale
force winds the ship arrived in New York on New Year’s Day
1945 and was berthed at 35th Street, Brooklyn in the
mid-evening. At 11:00hrs on January 3rd THANE departed from
New York and joined the 33 vessel New York to Liverpool
convoy CU 53. After an extremely stormy passage
THANE broke off from the convoy on reaching the Western
Approaches and proceeded to Belfast, arriving there on the
14th. At 14:00 she was alongside Sydenham jetty where the 18
aircraft, stores and aircrews of 1851 squadron and part the
maintenance personnel disembarked to at
Training in the UK
The squadron was allocated to the new Light Fleet Carrier HMS VENERABLE, which was nearing completion at her builders Cammell Laird in Birkenhead.; while waiting for her to enter service the squadron moved to
RNAS Eglinton on January 17th 19454 to continue training. On January 15th 1945 COLOSSUS, with sister carriers GLORY, VENERABLE and VENGEANCE had been allocated to the British Pacific Fleet as the 11th Aircraft Carrier Squadron (AC.11); none of these carriers was yet ready for operational deployment
While at Eglinton there were two aircraft incidents recorded; on February 19yh Sub-Lt T.H.P. Duggan RNVR in KD168 was taxing with wings folded and ran into the prop of KD271. On March 2nd Sub-Lt K.P. Shaw in KD290 clipped a tree with a wing tip during low flying exercises but landed safely.
On March 5th a number of pilots flew out to VENERABLE and carried out DLT in preparation for the whole squadron embarking on the 6th. Three of these landings resulted in deck crashes; Sub-Lts D.C. Greenbank RNVR in KDl86 and H.A.W. Smith RNVR in KD215 both caught No.8 wire before entering the barrier, while Sub-Lt Duggan in KD240 hit the ship’s crane with his starboard wing.
The squadron embarked in VENERABLE on March 6th in preparation for the ship’s work up period; the ship’s other squadron, 814 operating 18 Barracuda IIs embarked on the 8th. VENERABLE had done some working up with aircraft in February,
1850 had been using her for DLT between the 10th and the 25th when their own carrier, VENGEANCE became available. Normally the full work-up and shakedown period would be done in the training areas off the Clyde and upper reaches of the Irish Sea but due to increased U-Boat activity in the Irish Sea the Admiralty ordered AC.11 to the safer waters of the Mediterranean to do their work ups. AC.11, COLOSSUS, VENERABLE (Flagship Rear Admiral Cecil Harcourt RN OBE, CB) & VENGEANCE, escorted by TARTAR, ULYSSES, HMCS ASSINIBOINE, STCKHAM, INMAN, and COTTON sailed from the Clyde on March 12th for Malta; GLORY did not sail until May 9th.
On reaching Malta VENERABLE and VENGEANCE flew their squadrons ashore to RNAS Hal Far on March 20th, COLOSSUS continued on to Alexandria and disembarked her squadrons to
RNAS Dekheila on the 22nd. All three carriers were to receive dockyard alterations to their mainmast and aerial arrays; VENGEANCE returned to Gibraltar leaving Malta on the 22nd, VENERABLE entered a Maltese dockyard and COLOSUSS in Alexandria. While ashore at RNAS Hal Far the squadron continued training including interception exercises and ADDLs.
There were six incidents while ashore at Hal Far; on March 27th Sub-Lt M.R.H. Shippey RNVR ran into a starter trolley taxiing in KD245 damaging, the prop. On the 30th Sub-Lt E.A.M. Tuck RNVR was taxiing in KD213 when the tail lifted and the prop pecked the ground. On April 4th Sub-Lt S.O. Grinstead RNVR had a lucky escape during air-to-air firing in KD194, when his port wing hit the drogue towing cable, he landed safely. An aircraft was lost on that 9th when KD199 suffered engine failure and the prop stopped forcing the pilot, Sub-Lt F.L. Gann RNVR to ditch, he was safely rescued. On April 11th, KD218 I flown by Sub-Lt N. Gowling RNVR, burst its starboard tyre on landing and caused wrinkling of the fuselage skin. The final incident was on April 13th when Sub-Lt F.L. Gann RNVR ditched 1mile S of Cape Passero, Sicily after his engine sailed, he was picked up by fishing vessel.
On leaving the Dockyard in April VENERABLE re-embarked her squadrons, 814 on the 15th and 1851 on 16th to continue working up; they were both flown ashore to Hal Far again on the 20th. This short excursion saw two aircraft lost and one badly damaged; Sub-Lt R.W. Metcalf RNZNVR caught late wire in KD378 and hit the barrier on the 16th, on the 20th Sub-Lt P.R. Bartley RNVR was injured when on approach to the ship in KD391 he took a voluntary last minute wave-off and torque stalled into these on the port side. On the same day Sub-Lt G.H.C. Lowden RNVR was killed in very
similar circumstances; he was flying in KD583 in the landing circuit, turned too steeply while along port side of the ship and stalled into sea off Malta.
Just prior to leaving RNAS Hal Far there appears to have been an issue with the use of centre-line drop tanks; on May 16th KD216 (Sub-Lt F.S. Thgg RNVR) and KD231 (Sub-Lt J.W. Lang RNVR) both had their centre drop tank fall off while taxying.
COLOSSUS re-joined VENERABLE and VENGEANCE at the start of May to complete working up as a squadron; GLORY arrived at Malta on the 22nd to begin her work-up. Both squadrons re-embarked on May 21st; COLOSSUS, VENERABLE and VENGEANCE, escorted by the destroyers TUSCAN and TYRIAN departed from Malta on the 23rd for passage to Ceylon on the first leg of their journey to join the British Pacific Fleet in Sydney.
Two pilots were killed on May 30th during a dummy strafing attack on VENERABLE on passage in the Red Sea when the senior pilot, Lt C. Malins RNVR in KD294, and the squadron C.O. Lt. Cdr McDonald in KD241, collided in mid-air. After a brief call at Aden the ship crossed the Arabian Sea to India There was one other flying incident on June 4th when Sub-Lt S.O. Grinstead RNVR missed all the wires landing on and entered the barrier.
On reaching Ceylon VENERABLE disembarked the Barracudas of 814 to to
RNAS Katukurunda and Corsairs of 1851 to
RNAS Tambaram on June 7th. 1851 was the first of the Corsair squadrons to disembark from the three carriers; they were joined by 1846 from
COLOSSUS on the 10th and 1850 from VENGEANCE on the 11th. All three squadrons were to train on the extensive practise and live firing ranges the station had available, as well as receiving replacement aircraft from RNAMY Coimbatore in preparation for active service. Lieutenant Commander (A) K. Stilliard RNVR arrived to take command of the squadron on June 29th.
On June 30th 814 and 1851 squadrons became the 15th Carrier Air Group (15th CAG) for service in
VENERABLE; they re-embarked on July 3rd and 5th respectively, when the ship sailed for Australia !
The 14th CAG formed in COLOSSUS with 827 and 1846 squadrons, and 13th CAG in VENGEANCE with 812 and 1850 squadrons, all with 24 Corsair & 14 Barracuda
flew out to re-join the ship on July 1st and she proceeded
to Colombo to embark 812 squadron on the 4th. COLOSSUS,
VENERABLE and VENGEANCE sailed from Trincomalee for
Australia on July 7th in company with the Battleship ANSON
escorted by destroyers WAGER and WHELP.
The 15th Carrier Air Group and operations with the British Pacific Fleet
Flying was conducted on passage to Sydney; two days out from Trincomalee the Air Group and ship’s company celebrated crossing the Line. There were three barrier crashes on passage, the first was, on the 11th when Sub-Lt K.P. Shaw RNVR in KD612 missed all the wires, hit barrier and slew intro the island, the following day Sub-Lt H.A.W. Smith RNVR in KD404 made a fast approach after his throttle lever stiffened, caught No.8 wire and entered the barrier. On the 14th Sub-Lt M.B. Gerrish drifted to starboard landing on in KD633 managed to catch the last wire but hit the ship’s crane.
On reaching the coast of New South Wales the two squadrons of 15 CAG flew ashore to RNAS Schofields (Mobile Naval Air Base No. 3, HMS NABTHORPE) on July 21st, the ship preceded to No.2 Wharf, Woolloomooloo Docks, Sydney. They remained ashore until August 13th, re-embarking in VENERABLE when she prepared to sail for Manus in the Admiralty Islands. As early as August 10th it became clear that that Japan was willing to accept the terms of surrender and all of the ships in Australian waters had been reallocated to form Task Group 111 in
readiness to reoccupy the former Crown Colonies in Hong Kong (TG111.2!
Task Group 111.2 comprised carriers INDOMITABLE and VENERABLE, Cruisers SWIFTSURE and EURYALUS, PRINCE RUPERT (RCN) and Destroyers KEMPENFELT, URSA, WHIRLWIND and QUADRANT.
Task Group 111.3 comprised BERMUDA (Flag of Rear Admiral Servaes, Flag Officer Commanding 2nd Cruiser Squadron., ARGONAUT, COLOSSUS, TYRIAN, TUMULT, TUSCAN and QUIBERON.
) and Singapore TG111.4!
Task Group 111.4 comprised ANSON (Flag of Rear Admiral Daniel, Flag Officer Commanding 1st Battle Squadron, VENGEANCE and four destroyers. On arrival at Manus it was re-tasked to supplement the force reoccupying Hong Kong, ANSON and four destroyers went ahead, VENGEANCE and her escorts remained at Manus until August 30th, arriving at Hong Kong on September 5th. ).
VENERABLE sailed on the 15th in company with INDOMITABLE, COLOSSUS, and VENGEANCE, followed by cruisers BERMUDA and SWIFTSURE, destroyers QUADRANT, TUSCAN, URSA, TYRIAN, KEMPENFELT and WHIRLWIND; they were at sea when the Japanese surrender was announced. Flying continued while on passage;
The ships of Task Group 111.2 called at Manus on August 19th and then proceeded to Subic Bay to await orders. They sailed from Subic on the 27th and the Task Group met with
the advance elements of TG111.4 (ANSON and her escorting destroyers) off Hong Kong on the 29th to await completion of minesweeping operations before entering the colony.
Information had been received that there were a large number of Japanese explosive “suicide” boats hidden amongst the various coves and inlets and sir searches were mounted by aircraft from both carriers. Shortly before entering harbour on the 30th a report was received from one of the aircraft that there was anything up to a hundred of these beats in Picnic, Bay, Lamma Island. A short time later aircraft reported that three were heading for the western entrance to Man-o'-War anchorage. The aircraft were ordered to attack and they reported one sunk, one beached and the other returned to harbour, the boats in the Barbour were then bombed. The main elements of TG 111.2 and 111.4 then entered Hong Kong, VENERABLE was ordered to remain at sea and maintain a continuous air patrol over Hong Kong.
On September 3rd the Barracudas of 814 and 8 Corsairs from 1851 were flown ashore to operate from RNAS Kai Tak, the former civil airport reopened by MONAB VIII (Mobile Naval Air Base No. 8, HMS NABCATCHER). Squadron personnel were employed on policing and guard duties throughout the colony and many were present for the Official Japanese surrender of Hong Kong on the 16th
While ashore at Kai Tak there was one serious incident
involving Corsair KD664 on September 18th, while on
approach at 300ft the engine failed, the pilot Sub-Lt P.R.
Dallosso RNVR managed to make a wheels-up landing but hit an
obstacle and the aircraft caught on fire causing him serious
injuries. On the 27th Sub-Lt Smith had a mid-air
emergency in KD231 when a cowling blew off at 270 knots, he
managed to land safely.
In October VENERABLE as allocated to make a trooping voyage
to India and sailed to Haiphong, Vietnam to embark
passengers on the 17th, on returning to Jong Kong
she re-embarked her Air Group on the 19th before
sailing for Madras on the 21st. The passengers
were disembarked on the 27th and the ship sailed
for Trincomalee. The ship was allocated for further
personnel transport duties and the whole of the 15th Carrier
Air Group, including all maintenance personnel were
disembarked to RNAS Trincomalee beginning on the 28th.
They were to remain ashore until early December,
re-embarkation began on the 12th. Lieutenant Commander (A)
C.F. Hargreaves RN took over as commanding officer on
December 6th. There were two flying incidents
recorded while at Trincomalee; on December 1st
Sub-Lt Tuck made a forced landing on the sir field after his
aircraft, KD717, developed an oil leak while performing
acrobatics, his engine seized at 8,000ft and he glided 7
miles to make a landing. On the 10th Sub-Lt Smith
had a landing incident in KD730, making a steep turn he
stalled on approach and his port wing scraped the runway.
Return to Australia and Post War duties
VENERABLE sailed from Trincomalee on December 13th 1945 bound for Sydney to undergo a refit. The ship arrived in Fremantle on the 23rd and Christmas was celebrated in the city before sailing again on the 26th. On reaching Jervis Bay off the coast of New South Wales on the 20th the two squadrons of 15 CAG flew ashore to RNAS Nowra (Mobile
Naval Air Base No. 5, HMS NABSWICK); the ship arrived in Sydney on New Year’s Eve and was taken in hand for her refit.
The 15th Carrier Air Group was now reorganised, 1851 was reduced in size to 12 Corsairs while 814 was to re-equip with 12 Firefly FR.1s, leaving their Barracudas at Nowra. In January 1946 both squadrons moved to RNAS Schofields
(Mobile Naval Air Base No.
6 HMS NABSTOCK), 814
leaving on the 22nd and 1851 on the 24th. Sub-Lt Smith had a close call during an exercise on February 6th in KD730, while making a practice strafing attack on a Royal Marine landing party his aircraft hit a tree and badly damaged the port wing; he managed to make a forced landing at Jervis Bay.
1851 re-joined VENERABLE on February 22nd when she was conducting her post refit shake-down off the New South Wales coast. Sub-Lt W.A. Hodgson RNVR was forced to make wheels up landing in KD839 on the ship on the 27th; his starboard undercarriage leg had jammed up. They were joined by the 12 Fireflies of 814 on March 13th in preparation for returning to Ceylon.
Both squadrons were put ashore to
RNAS Katukurunda on April 26th 1946 when the ship was nominated for further trooping duties. The last recorded accident occurred at Katukurunda on May 9th; Sub-Lt T.H.P. Duggan RNVR was taxiing in KD849 when he braked to avoid a Tiger Moth and nosed over. 1851 briefly re-joined the ship on May 28th, probably for DLT, before returning to RNAS Katukurunda on the 31st. This was the last time the squadron would operate from VENERABLE, the squadron was earmarked for return to the UK to disband and would be transferring to her sister carrier VENGEANCE they were replaced in the CAG by 802 squadron operating Seafires.
1851 flew on-board VENGEANCE on June 11th 1946 for 5 days of
training, returning to RNAS Katukurunda on the 15th.
Return to the UK to disband
The squadron left Katukurunda for the last time on July 18th 1946 when they embarked in VENGEANCE on passage to Colombo. VENGEANCE departed from Colombo on July 20th carrying her own Air Group, (812 and 1850) on passengers for the UK. She called at Aden, Port Suez, and Gibraltar before arriving off Spithead, Portsmouth on August 12th 1946. After Customs clearance all squadrons were disembarked, 812 to RNAS Lee-on-Solent, 1850 and 1851 to RNAS Gosport, all officially disbanded on arrival.
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11 August 2020
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