Embarked in HMS PURSUER
HMS PURSUER was a fighter carrier equipped with two Wildcat squadrons, each with 10 aircraft; 896 and 881 squadrons embarked on November 26th from RNAS Belfast. [It is probable that the aircraft of both squadrons were craned on board from the jetty at RNAS Belfast as the ship arrived at Belfast docks for repairs on that date]. Repairs were completed by December 19th and the ship put to sea to begin her work-up in the Irish Sea. On completion of her work-up PURSUER was allocated for deployment in the Western Approaches for convoy defence duties with Escort Group 16). Between February 6th and 15th she provided air patrols over the combined convoy OS.67/ KMS.41 (Liverpool to Gibraltar). During this period there were two flying incidents; on February 19th Sub-Lt. A.N. Pym RNVR made a barrier crash and overturned in JV435, and on the 26th Sub-Lt. D Symons RNVR 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 having covered the in-bound convoy SL149 (which arrived in Liverpool on 7th.).
Operations with the Home Fleet
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 planned Distant Cover for the passage of Convoy JW58 to Kola Inlet and fighter escort for air attacks on the German battleship TIRPITZ (Operation TUNGSTEN). The ships taking part in TUNGSTEN left Scapa on March 30th in two groups; Force 1 comprising of 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 JW 58. Force 2 comprised ROYALIST (Read Admiral Escort Carriers), EMPEROR, SEARCHER, PURSUER, FENCER, 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 4th April 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 fuelling position. On April, 2nd ANSON, VICTORIOUS, BELFAST, and 4 destroyers were detached from Force 1 and joined with 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. Some damage was caused to the TIRPITZ, while the supply ship CA LARSEN was severely damaged. 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 her squadrons disembarked to RNAS Hatston, Orkney, on April 6th. This was a short break before re-embarking on the 11th to prepare for Operation PITCHBOWL, a repeat of TUNGSTEN. The force, ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers) with EMPEROR, PURSUER, FENCER, BERWICK, and SHEFFIELD, escorted by MUSKETEER, METEOR, MARNE, MATCHLESS, ONSLAUGHT, PIORUN, and SIOUX sailed on the 13th, but the operation was cancelled the next day due to bad weather and the force returned to Scapa.
The next attempt to strike
at TIRPITZ was Operation PLANET;
PURSUER sailed from Scapa On Friday 21st in company with ANSON
(VA, IC Home Fleet), ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers),
STRIKER, KENT, JAMAICA, URSA, UNDAUNTED, WAKEFUL, WIZARD,
SERAPIS, JAVELIN, VENUS, VIGILANT, SIOUX, ALGONQUIN, PIORUN, SWIFT,
KEMPENFELT, 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 which saw
PURSUER, in company with the Fleet carriers VICTORIOUS and
FURIOUS, and the CVEs
STRIKER, to 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 sailed for Liverpool for repairs.
Disbanded and absorbed into 881 squadron
On reaching Liverpool Bay 896 squadron disembarked to RNAS Burscough, Lancashire on May 1st where they remained until the ship put to sea again on June 2nd. The squadron lost another pilot on June 8th; Sub-Lt. J.M. Barber RNVR was killed when his aircraft, JV541 crashed into the sea after an accelerated take off.
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 May 5th 1944 896 squadron was disbanded aboard PURSUER, her aircraft and aircrew being absorbed into 881 Squadron.
896 (2) Jan - Dec 45
Hellcat FB.11s fly past the quarter deck at RNAS Wingfield, HMS MALAGAS, Cape Town with Table mountain in the background..
The squadron spent the most of January getting familiarised with the Hellcat, and the area, both on the ground and in the air; for many of the young pilots this was their first front-line squadron, having only recently returned from flying training in America. At this time 896 Squadron had a strength of twenty four pilots including the CO and Senior Pilot, Lt Harry Palmer SANF(V) and two Air Liaison officers, Captain Dennis Sevenoaks and Major Phillip Mann.
The first three and a half months of 1945 were spent working up at RNAS Wingfield, conducting exercises and armament practice in the Cape area. It is possible that some members of the squadron were present on the station before the main party arrived on January 5th - there is record of Hellcat JW709 being issued to 896 on January 3rd and crashing on the 5th; the aircraft was being flown by Sub-Lt. F. C. Birch RNVR when it suffered an engine failure while in the circuit and crashed into the bush near the airfield, the pilot was OK. The work up period went relatively smoothly with only four aircraft incidents; on January 23rd Lt. C. P. Stark RNVR taxied into a stationary aircraft, on February 8th Sub-Lt. B. E. Smart RNVR in Hellcat JX699 nosed over and overturned, while on the 18th Sub-Lt. R.C. Thompson RNVR ran JX688 into the tail of Sub-Lt. V. H. Seddon's aircraft, JX719, causing propeller damage to both aircraft. On March 28th JX678, flown by Sub-Lt. W. J. M. St. C. Reid, was hit by fragments of a practice rocket projectile casing during range practice.
On April 22nd the whole squadron departed for R.N. Air Section Stamford Hill, Durban, via SAAF Port Elizabeth, after flying a mass Formation over Cape Town to 'show the flag'. From there they were to embark in the escort carrier HMS AMEER, part of the 21st Aircraft Carrier Squadron of the East Indies Fleet, for passage to India.
The airfield at Stamford Hill presented new challenges for the arriving pilots, firstly they were arriving after dark at a grass airstrip with a flare path laid out with goose-neck paraffin flares, and secondly it was necessary to approach in a right hand circuit - the opposite of that at Wingfield. Only 18 aircraft arrived on time. 6 others remained at SAAF Port Elizabeth as their clocks had been stolen; they were further delayed by bad weather and did not arrive until three days later.
AMEER was in harbour at Durban, having been in dockyard hands for defect rectification and a boiler clean. The first 18 aircraft were towed through the streets and hoisted on board from the quayside on April 24th. From Durban the ship sailed for Madras, Southern India, arriving there on May 12th, 896 then disembarked to RNAS Tambaram for a short, but intensive, training period; at the end of July it made a round trip flight to RNAS Trincomalee, Ceylon, and arrived back on June 5th.
The squadron was now ready for operations with the East Indies fleet and was allocated to operat5e from the escort carrier HMS EMPRESS and flew out to join the ship on June 10th. On June 20th the squadron carried out a period of DLT on HMS EMPEROR. 896 remained aboard until the 24th when they transferred to HMS AMEER in preparation for the upcoming operation 'COLLIE'. The pilots now had to learn the art of the accelerated (catapulted) take-off, necessary for getting a fully armed Hellcat off the short flight deck in the light winds of the Indian Ocean.
This operation was in preparation for
Malayan coast landings and included screening operations for the 6th
Minesweeping Flotilla (Force 62, comprising of 9 minesweepers) during
the clearance of
mines in the approaches to the Malacca Straits and the bombardment of
AMEER was to operate as part of Force 61 which comprised of the
cruiser NIGERIA, CVEs
AMEER (896 squadron) and
EMPEROR (800 Squadron) with Destroyers ROEBUCK, ESKIMO and VIGILANT
as screen. The force sailed from Trincomalee on July 2nd; Force 62
carried out minesweeping operations between the 5th - 10th while
NIGERIA carried out 8 bombardments between the 5th - 9th. Hellcats
EMPEROR carried out air strikes against targets on Car Nicobar
Further air strikes were launched on the 11th when AMEER and EMPEROR launched a total of 24 aircraft to attack airfields at Kota Raja and Lho Nga in NW Sumatra. A single Japanese aircraft approached and was shot down. Four Hellcats were lost on operation 'COLLIE' and two pilots were killed; Sub Lt. W Stewart RNVR was killed when his aircraft Hellcat JX677 Swung to port on a dawn take off on July 5th and dove into the sea, it sank immediately. The other fatality was the 896 squadron C.O. Lt. Cdr R. M. Norris, his Hellcat JX680 was hit by flak during an abortive shipping strike at Nancowry on July 7th, and dove into the sea on fire.
Force 61 withdrew and returned to
Trincomalee on July 14th.
HMS AMEER arrived back at Ceylon on the 16th and 896 squadron
was disembarked to Royal Naval Air Station Trincomalee where a
new CO, Lt. Cdr (A) G. J. Zegers de Beijl DSC RNethN and five new
pilots awaited to bring the squadron up to a strength of 27 pilots.
The squadron next embarked aboard
'LIVERY', flying out to join the ship the following day
EMPRESS was deployed with Force 63 for operation LIVERY on July 19th; the force comprised of the Battleship NELSON, cruiser SUSSEX, and CVEs EMPRESS and AMEER with Destroyers PALADIN, ROTHERHAM, RACEHORSE and RAIDER to cover minesweeping operations carried out by HM Minesweepers PLUCKY, PINCHER, VESTAL RIFLEMAN and HM Indian Minesweepers PUNJAB and DECCAN off Phuket Island and conduct strikes on targets in northern Malaya. The operation began on the 24th and was to last for three days. This was an intense flying period for the two CVEs, over a 3 day period Hellcats from both carriers flew over 150 sorties and destroyed more than 30 Japanese aircraft on the ground, together with trains and road transport in attacks on the Kra Isthmus. Operation LIVERY was the last offensive operation carried out by the East Indies Fleet in WW2, two minesweepers were sunk during the operation: the remaining ships of Force 63 returned to Trincomalee on the 28th. Once back at Ceylon 896 Squadron disembarked to RNAS Trincomalee on July 30th to continue training, moving briefly to RNAS Puttalam in N.W. Ceylon before moving back to Trincomalee o August n 8th ready for re-embarkation in EMPRESS.
Hellcat JX688 'B8H' running up to full power in preparation for an accelerated launch from HMS EMPRESS. The aircraft is armed with rocket projectiles which are visible under the wings. The catapult towing strop can be clearly seen under tension, and the main wheels are aligned within the the guide cleats.
This operation was a series of attacks on shipping and airfields in Penang and Medan area of Sumatra. Force 61, consisting of the AA Cruiser ROYALIST (Flag of Rear Admiral G.N. Oliver, CB, DSO, Rear Admiral Commanding 21ACS), CVEs AMEER , ATTACKER, EMPEROR, EMPRESS, KHEDIVE, and SHAH, Destroyers TARTAR (Captain (D), Tenth Destroyer Flotilla), PENN, VIGILANT, and VERULAM. The force sailed from Trincomalee on August 10th, to carry out strikes on August 14th and 15th. On August 11th the force was ordered to hold west of 90 degrees east and await further orders; the operation was eventually cancelled in light of the news of Japan's announced willingness to accept the Allies' surrender terms. The force subsequently returned to Trincomalee, arriving on August 15th when the Station General Message "SUSPEND OFFENSIVE OPERATIONS AGAINST JAPANESE FORCES" was made to all ships and allied forces.
Force 61 returned to Trincomalee, and after the V-J celebrations part of the squadron was disembarked to Royal Naval Air Station Katukurunda, a detachment remained aboard EMPRESS and continued flying operations throughout August, the squadron suffering two more accidents towards the end of the month; JX724 skidded into a walkway on the 23rd and JX706 burst a tyre landing on the 29th.
Hellcat 'B8R' with some of the squadron maintainers ashore. Date and location not known.
At the start of September EMPRESS together with sister CVEs AMEER, EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE, and STALKER were tasked with the reoccupation of Singapore, code name operation ZIPPER. EMPRESS embarked replacement aircraft before sailing with the force which left Trincomalee on the 4th. The replenishment went badly as the first of the Hellcats to fly out to the ship had to be waved off by EMPRESS'S Deck Landing Control Officer (DLCO) and it had to wait until the second one had landed safely; on his second attempt Sub Lt. R.W. George RNVR came in to high but ignored the DLCO signals and attempted a landing anyway. He cut his engine but passed over all the arrestor wires, and the barriers to drop onto several airframes in the forward aircraft park. More replacements had to be organised before she could proceed to join the task force.
Force 61 arrived off Singapore Island on September 6th and waited for instructions; on the 8th one of 896 squadrons hellcats, JX679 ditched alongside. EMPRESS, EMPEROR, HUNTER, KHEDIVE and STALKER anchored in Keppel Harbour, Singapore while AMEER and EMPRESS were among 90 ships (including 70 RN and RIN warships, 3 Royal Fleet Auxiliaries, 3 hospital ships and 14 merchant vessels) present in Singapore Roads for the surrender ceremony which took place on the 12th. EMPRESS returned to Trincomalee on September 13th flying off the aircraft of 896 Squadron for the last time to RNAS Katukurunda.
Ashore at RNAS Katukurunda the Squadron did little flying, their future was uncertain and personnel changes began. A new CO, Lt. Cdr (A) M. F. Turner RNVR, arrived on October 12th and several pilots returned home under the early release scheme; amongst these was the senior pilot Lt. H. A. T. Palmer SANF(V), he was replaced by Lt (A) J. E. Bullen RNVR.
The aircrew and maintenance personnel of 896 squadron embarked in HMS EMPRESS on November 27th as passengers for passage home to the UK, their aircraft remained ashore at Katukurunda. HMS EMPRESS left Colombo on November 27th calling at Bombay, Aden, Malta and Gibraltar, and arrived alongside at the King George V dock, Glasgow on December 19, 1945; the squadron was officially disbanded on this date.
Content revised: 15 November 2016
Sources used in compiling this account:
Brown, D. (1974)'
No badge issued
Wildcat V Sep 43 - Jun 44
Hellcat II.FB Jan 45 - Nov 45
Sea King HAS.2 Sep 1978
Lt. (A) S.G. Orr DSC RNVR 15 Sep 1942
Lt. Cdr (A) B.H.C. Nation RN 28 Mar 1943
Lt. Cdr (A) L.A. Hordern DSC RNVR
25 Oct 1943
Lt. Cdr (A) R.M. Norris RNVR 9 Jan 1945
Lt. Cdr (A) G.1 Zegers de Beijl DSC RNethN 14 Jul 1945
Lt. Cdr (A) M.F. Turner RNVR 12 Oct 1945
Squadron disbanded 19 Dec 1945
Aircrew and Squadron Personnel
© 2016 Tony Drury www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk