This first outing for the ship and her aircraft passed with only one incident for each squadron; JV402 of 898 Squadron snapped its arrestor hook landing while Sub Lt G. N. Fenn RNVR was embarking on the 9th and JV524 of 882 Squadron, ditched in the circuit while attempting a precautionary landing and sank on the 27th, Sub Lt A. Sharpe RNZNVR was picked up by the plane guard destroyer, USS SIMMS. While ashore at Brunswick 898 had a further two minor incidents; Sub Lt G. Waite RNZNVR in JV400swung to starboard, struck a snowdrift and overturned on January 13th 1944 and JV538 flown by Sub Lt M. C. Brown RNZNVR ground looped landing on the 28th.
The squadron re-embarked in SEARCHER on February 8th and the ship sailed for the UK on the 10th. It is assumed that convoy defence flying was undertaken on passage. On arrival back in the UK her squadrons flew off to RNAS Eglinton on the 28th, the ship then anchored off Greenock on March 1st to unload stores brought from New York. The following day she re-embarked her squadrons for a two week work-up in the Clyde training area. There were only two barrier crashes during this short work-up period; Sub Lt C.O. Cullen RNVR flying in JV407 on March 3rd resulting in a collapsed starboard undercarriage leg and damaged prop and Lt C. St. George RNZNVR in JV425 ('7Q'), missed all the wires and went into the barrier the following day.
Operations with the Home Fleet
HMS SEARCHER 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 PURSUER, 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 and this was one of the worst periods for flying incidents in the squadron’s history; 4 barrier crashes, 1 emergency landing, 3 crashes on deck, one of which was fatal. On March 22nd Sub Lt H. J. Pain RNVR in JV399 ('7Y'), missed all the wires, and damaged his prop in the barrier; Sub Lt C. O. Cullen RNVR made a heavy emergency landing in JV538 ('7X') after his canopy was broken obscuring his vision. On the 23rd Lt R. J. Harrison RNZNVR wrote off JV405, he landed on the rounddown, the aircraft broke its back, and pulled off the tail unit; Sub Lt D. S. Farthing RNVR in JV398 and Sub Lt C. O. Cullen in JV471 both had barrier crashes. On the 27th Sub Lt M. C. Brown RNZNVR was killed when his aircraft, JV377 went over the side an sank – he was attempting to land on a pitching deck with low wind speed, opened the throttle to go round again but changed his mind, closed the throttle and his port wing dropped, hit Nos.2 & 3 barrier stanchions & Wildcat JV437, before going over the side inverted. The 28th was the last flying day before the force would sail for the operation. Sub Lt H. J. Pain RNVR in JV402 had a final barrier crash while Sub Lt A Sharpe RNZNVR, of 882, flying in JV424 , one of 898 Squadrons aircraft, had a lucky escape after he swung to starboard landing, the aircraft hit the island structure before falling into the sea and sank.
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. 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.
The only damage suffered by 898 was on
their return to the ship on the 3rd; two had obscured visibility due
to oil on their windscreens – JV519 & JV576 ('7M'), both were flown
by Sub Lt R. J. Harrison RNZNVR and were almost identical incidents,
caught last wire, and damaged the prop. The third was Sub Lt A. R. Duff RNZNVR
in JV496 ('6V') he missed all the wires and went into the barrier damaging
the undercarriage. SEARCHER developed defects later in the day on
April 3rd and dropped astern, screened by JAMAICA and destroyers
VIRAGO, and SIOUX, the remainder of the force proceeded to Scapa,
arriving on the 6th. SEARCHER, JAMAICA, and the 2 destroyers and the
oiling force returned to Scapa the following day. On arrival at
Scapa SEARCHER disembarked her squadrons to RNAS Hatston, Orkney,
before sailing p.m. on April 7th for Rosyth for repairs.
Operation PITCHBOWL: This was a short break for 898 before re-embarking on the 11th to prepare for Operation PITCHBOWL. With SEARCHER temporarily out of action 898 was to embark in HMS FENCER for what was planned as a repeat of TUNGSTEN. The force, comprised of ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers) with EMPEROR, PURSUER, FENDER, 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. 898 flew off back to Hatston on the 15th.
Operations PLANET, RIDGE ABLE & RIDGE BAKER: HMS SEARCHER arrived back at Scapa, p.m. on the 15th and 898 re-embarked on the 18th to prepare for the next attempt to strike at TIRPITZ, Operation PLANET. SEARCHER sailed from Scapa on Friday 21st in company with ANSON (VA, IC Home Fleet), ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers), VICTORIOUS, FURIOUS, EMPEROR, PURSUER, 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, this 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 SEARCHER, in company with the Fleet carriers VICTORIOUS and FURIOUS, and the CVEs EMPEROR, PURSUER, and 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 where 898 squadron flew ashore to Hatston.
Operation CROQUET: After only five days ashore the squadron was back on SEARCHER for Operation CROQUET, a strike by aircraft from FURIOUS and SEARCHER against shipping on the Norwegian coast between Bud (62˚55' N, 06˚55' E) and 63˚20' N, 8˚20' E. The Force (BERWICK (Senior Officer), FURIOUS, and SEARCHER, screened by SAVAGE, PIORUN, BLYSKAWICA, ALGONQUIN, WIZARD, and WAKEFUL) left Scapa late on May 3rd and proceeded to the Norwegian coast, arriving in the flying off position early on the 5th. Owing to unfavourable weather, the operation was postponed until the following day and the force reversed course for 12 hours returning to the same position at 0630 on Ma y6th. A striking force of Barracuda from FURIOUS, escorted by Wildcats from SEARCHER were flown off and swept the leads from south to north. Two southbound convoys were found and attacked successfully; one ship of 2500 tons was sunk and one of 6000 tons and a 5000 ton tanker probably sank. An escort vessel was hit by bombs and another merchantmen damaged by near misses. Two enemy flying boats were shot down; 1 BV 138, shared by 898 Wildcats JV460 ('7T'), JV538 ('7X'), crashed into the sea in flames NE of Vevang at 0810 on May 6th., and a second BV 138 shared by Wildcats JV576 ('7M'), JV487 ('7P'), JV425 ('7Q'), JV404 ('7W'), was shot down into the sea, NE of Vevang at 0820. Two Barracudas were lost. 898s only casualties were two barrier crashes on returning to the ship Sub Lt J. O, Bignell RNVR in JV492 on the 6th and Lt. Cdr O. R. Henderson RNVR in JV576 ('7M'), on the 7th. On completion the force retired returning to Scapa, arriving on May 7th. SEARCHER however was detached to join Rear Admiral Escort Carriers' Force for Operation HOOPS.
Operation HOOPS: This operation was another strike against shipping off the South Norwegian coast, this time by the Escort Carrier Squadron under Rear Admiral Escort Carriers in ROYALIST with EMPEROR, STRIKER, and JAMAICA screened by KEMPENFELT, ONSLAUGHT, MARNE, UNDAUNTED, WAGER, and SIOUX. The Force left Scapa on May 7th and proceeded west of the Orkneys where SEARCHER joined, 20 miles north of Noup Head. The Force arrived in the flying off position at 0730 on the 8th May and two strikes, each of 8 Hellcats escorted by 8 Wildcats, were flown off. The first strike attacked a northbound convoy of 5 merchant ships with ten escorts 15 miles south west of Kristiansand. The operation was very much a curtailed one; SEARCHER was a compromise to provide fighter cover, the original planning had HUNTER, ATTACKER, and STALKER in the force but they were withdrawn by Admiralty at the last moment. STRIKER was to provide the A/S protection
One merchant ship was probably damaged and two Wildcats were shot down; Sub Lt I. A. Cotching RNVR was killed when his aircraft JV538 ('7X') was hit by flak in an attack on a convoy, the aircraft dived into the sea from 50 ft; Sub Lt I. K. B. Pearson RMVR in JV367 ('6L') was also hit by flak in an attack on a convoy, he managed to ditch and was taken prisoner. Hellcat JV107 of 800 Squadron, n Emperor was shot down by German fighters, Sub Lt R. L. Thompson bailed out 7m off Smolen Island, Norway, but drowned.
Wildcats JV425 ('7Q'), JV496 ('6V') , JV404 ('7W'), JV399 ('7Y'), attacked 2 Blohm & Voss BV 13 flying boats, 1 crashed into the sea on fire trying to land, the second crashed in sea on fire, SW of Haram harbour between Haramso and the mainland at 0820. Hellcats from 800 squadron on EMPEROR shot down 3 enemy fighters; Lt B. Ritchie RNVR shot down a Fw190 into the sea off Norway, Sub Lt L J.G. Devitt RNVR shot down a MesserschmittBf109 into the sea off Norway while Sub Lt T.H. Hoare RNZNVR & Sub Lt I. D. Scarves RNZNVR shared another. The force then withdrew to the westwards and returned to Scapa on May 9th.
A Royal visit: His Majesty the King visited the Home Fleet from 10th to 13th May and he Visited SEARCHER on the 11th where he met with the ships officers, including representatives from other escort carriers and their squadrons present at Scapa. SEARCHER took passage to Rosyth for routine maintenance and repair after the Royal visit.
HMS STRIKER and operation POTLUCK: For their next operation 898 were embarked in HMS STRIKER, embarking after the King had departed on the 11th. They were to provide Combat Air Patrols (CAP) over the force for Operation POTLUCK, another strike against shipping on the Norwegian coast (between Rorvik and Frohavet) by the escort carrier squadron, however the main object was to create a diversion for Operation BRAWN which was being carried out simultaneously further north. The Force (ROYALIST (Rear Admiral Escort Carriers), EMPEROR, STRIKER, and SHEFFIELD, screened by ONSLOW, OBEDIENT, URSA, BLYSKAWICA, PIORUN, and WAKEFUL) left Scapa on May 12th and proceeded towards the Norwegian coast, arriving in the flying off position at 1230 on May 14th by which time German shadowers were in company.
After withdrawing to the westward, the force was attacked by 6 to 8 MesserschmittMe 110's. Gunfire from ROYALIST turned the formation away and Hurricanes from STRIKER’s 824 squadron caused them to jettison their bombs and veer off. On May 15th the force closed the Norwegian coast again and at 0425 a second strike of 8 bombers and 7 fighters proceeded to attack the fish oil factory at Fosnavaag and two armed coasters off the shore as no convoy was sighted. At 0600 at position 65°16'N 6°13'E one of the shadowing Focke-Wulf Fw200 Condors was attacked by two of 898s Wildcats, JV510 ('7R') flown by Lt R. I. Harrison RNZNVR and JV496 ('6V') piloted by Lt W. I. Sheppard RNVR. The aircraft was driven off and went into cloud with its port engine smoking. On returning from a CAP sortie Lt RI Harrison RNZNVR flying JV460 ('7T'), landed on STRIKER with his hook up and was stopped by the barrier. The strike returned without loss. Unfavourable weather reports prevented any further strikes and the force withdrew, arriving back at Scapa on May 16th.
It is assumed that 898 remained aboard STRIKER at Scapa until June 1st when they are recorded as disembarking to RNAS Hatston to await the return of SEARCHER from Rosyth. The squadron re-joined SEARCHER on June 8th and she sailed south to join Escort Group B4 in the Western Approaches for convoy protection duties,
The officers of 898 Squadron at RNAS Wingfield, HMS MALAGAS, Cape Town in January 1945. Click image to view larger version - Click here to see names on reverse of image. Photo courtesy Michael West
The squadron spent 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 898 Squadron had a strength of twenty four pilots including the CO and Senior Pilot. The first 6 months of 1945 were spent working up at RNAS Wingfield, conducting exercises and armament practice in the Cape area.
During this time there were surprisingly few flying incidents recorded; the first was on March 16th when Hellcat JX704, flown by Sub Lt Leslie Barber RNVR, suffered an engine failure on take-off, the undercarriage collapsed on impact knocking him unconscious when his head hit the gun-sight . A few days later Lt J. V. Brownlee RNVR had an aborted take-off on the 22nd when the starboard brake seized causing his aircraft, JW749 to swing off the runway and overturn. The squadron suffered its first fatality on April 19th when Petty Officer Pilot J. Leiper flew his Hellcat into rising ground at Klapmuts/Mulderovei, Cape Province and was killed in the impact. On April 29th Sub Lt A. A. Marshall RNVR overshot the runway in Hellcat JW737 and the aircraft ended up on its nose. The following day the squadron lost another pilot; Sub Lt J. A. Burton RNVR was killed when his aircraft, JX913 was lost on a low level sea navigation & landfall exercise 40 miles off the Cape of Good Hope. The last incident at RNAS Wingfield was on June 13th when Hellcat JX986 flown by Sub Lt A. W. Morris RNVR had a partial engine seizure on the ground.
The squadron embarked in the escort carrier HMS ATTACKER on June 23rd for passage to Ceylon, they were disembarked to RNAS Colombo Racecourse in early July before moving to RNAS Katukurunda on the 19th. The squadron was assigned to the escort carrier HMS PURSUER and they flew out to join the ship on July 29th while on passage to Trincomalee. .
Hellcat FB.11s fly past the quarter deck at RNAS Wingfield, HMS MALAGAS, Cape Town with Table mountain in the background.
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 to exercise with the ship. Petty Officer Pilot AH Kay 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, and continued on into the barrier where its engine was stopped.
Above: One of the squadrons Hellcats is stopped by the barrier. Below, Hellcat JX696 going down into the hangar.
Photos: Courtesy Mr. David Dixon.
898 Squadron ashore at RNAS Puttalam August 1945 - Lt. L. Barber 2nd row back 5th from left [in sunglasses, Lt. D.R.L. Brown is 4th from left, Lt. Rayner is sat astride the propeller boss and Lt. Cdr Kearsley is standing below him with hands on hips. Photo: courtesy Richard Barber. Click image to view larger version
After the Japanese surrender on August 15th operation ZIPPER was put on hold and PURSUER was released from the invasion force. The ship was reassigned for duty as a Communications Ship during landings in Port Swettenham on August 23rd, 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 August 18th. The squadron did not return to sea, it remained at Puttalam until September 14th when they flew to RNAS Katukurunda. Some flying was carried out during these immediate post-war months and only one incident is recorded when Lt. Cdr H. M. Mackenzie in JX710 was taxied into by JX840 (pilot unknown) at Katukurunda on October 10th.
By November the squadron was surplus to requirements and the personnel were given local leave and the aircraft were withdrawn. The squadron personnel boarded HMS PURSUER as passengers on November 20th 1945 for passage home to the UK. 898 officially disbanded on arrival in the UK on December 12th 1945.
 ‘Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945’ records the pilot involved in this incident as Sub Lt H. G. Barber – however no such officer was attached to the squadron, Sub Lt (A) L. Barber RNVR is correctly listed in the Navy List for July 1945.
Content revised: 11 December 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
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.
(R38) Wikipedia entry
Motto: Far and wide
Martlet IV Oct42 - Sep 43
Wildcat V Sep 43 - Jul 44
Hellcat IIFB Jan 45 - Nov 45
Capt. Al Wright RM 15 Oct 42
Lt. Cdr (A) ILF Lowe DSC RN
Lt. Cdr (A) GR Henderson DSC RNVR
20 Oct 3
Lt. Cdr (A) RW Kearsley RN 01Jan 45
Squadron disbanded 12 Dec 1945
Aircrew and Squadron Personnel
© 2016 Tony Drury www.royalnavyresearcharchive.org.uk