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Part 2 of 3 - 1941-43

HMS Queen, escort carrier  (Navy Photos, click to enlarge)

on to Part 3, Carrier Warfare, 1943-45


Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

(for more ship information,  go to Naval History Homepage and type name in Site Search)





15th-21st - Battle for Convoy HG76: Closing of the Gibraltar/UK Air-Gap - Gibraltar/UK convoy HG76 (32 ships) was escorted by the 36th Escort Group (Cdr F. J. Walker) with a support group including escort carrier “Audacity”. In advance of the convoy leaving Gibraltar, destroyers of Force H including the Australian “Nestor” located and destroyed “U-127” on the 15th. In the four days from the 17th, four more U-boats were sunk for the loss of two of the escorts and two merchantmen. The battle took place to the far west of Portugal, north of Madeira and the Azores: 17th - “U-131” was sunk by destroyers “Blankney”, “Exmoor” and “Stanley”, corvette “Pentstemon” and sloop “Stork” together with Grumman Martlets flying from “Audacity”. 18th - “U-434” was accounted for by “Blankney” and “Stanley”. 19th - Destroyer “STANLEY” was torpedoed and sunk by “U-574”, but then sent to the bottom, rammed by sloop “Stork”. 21st - The sole escort carrier “AUDACITY” was torpedoed by “U-751” and lost, but in the general counter-attack “U-567” was sunk by corvette “Samphire” and sloop “Deptford”. The sinking of five U-boats in exchange for two merchant ships was a significant victory for the escorts, and proved beyond any doubt the value of escort carrier aircraft against the submarine - as well as the patrolling Focke Wulf Kondors, two of which were shot down.


21st - “U-457” was sunk in the Strait of Gibraltar by Swordfish of 812 Squadron flying from Gibraltar. The Swordfish managed to get away from the sinking ”Ark Royal” a month earlier and now played an important part patrolling the waters in which the carrier went down.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Strategic and Naval Background


Britain and Dominions - Responsible for defending India, Ceylon, Burma, Malaya, northern Borneo, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the Papua New Guinea/Bismarck Archipelago/Solomon Islands chain, and numerous island groups throughout the Indian Ocean and Central/South Pacific. Britain's main base was at Singapore with its two recently arrived big ships. Three old cruisers and some destroyers were in Malayan waters, and a few old destroyers at Hong Kong. By now the surviving seven cruisers and smaller ships of the Royal Australian and New Zealand Navies were back in the area.

United States - Apart from the defence of its Western seaboard, Panama Canal Zone, Alaska and the Aleutians, Hawaiian Islands and various islands in the Central Pacific, the US had responsibilities towards the Philippines. In the event of attack, the defenders were expected to hold out until relieved by the US Pacific Fleet fighting its way from the main base at Pearl Harbor, a distance of 4,500 miles. The Pacific Fleet itself consisted of eight battleships, three fleet carriers, 21 cruisers, 67 destroyers and 27 submarines.

Dutch - Naval forces allocated to the defence of the many islands of the Dutch East lndies included three cruisers, seven destroyers and fifteen submarines.


Already established in Korea, Manchuria, northeast China, its main ports and Hainan, Formosa, and the Mariana, Caroline and Marshall Island groups, Japan now had the whole of French Indochina. Japan went to war with both the strategic and military advantages. Militarily, Allied and Japanese naval forces were about balanced in numbers. There the comparison ends. The Imperial Japanese Navy had far more carriers (11 to three American), its surface task forces were well trained, especially in night-fighting, and they had no command or language difficulties. In contrast, the Allied ships were scattered and had no central command. Their main bases at Singapore and Pearl Harbor were 6,000 miles apart, and most of the strength was concentrated with the US Pacific Fleet. Only the US Navy posed an immediate danger to Japanese plans. Hence the decision to attack it in Pearl Harbor rather than wait for it to try to fight through to the Philippines. The Japanese chose the time and place of their landings, all well escorted by cruiser and destroyer forces. Air cover was maintained by land-based aircraft or from carriers and seaplane carriers as necessary, and battleships and cruisers provided distant support. By this time the annihilation of the Allied capital ships made their presence unnecessary.

The few Allied maritime sorties - some surface, but mainly by aircraft and submarine - had few successes against the invasion fleets. And in return they suffered heavy losses.

East - Hawaiian Islands, Guam, Wake Island and British Gilbert Islands - On the morning of the 7th local time (shortly after the Malay landings) the Japanese Strike Force carrier aircraft hit Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In the Attack on Pearl Harbor, battleships “ARIZONA” and “OKLAHOMA” were total losses, three more sank but were later re-commissioned, and the remaining three damaged. Many were killed and a considerable number of aircraft destroyed. Although the Pacific battlefleet ceased to exist, the three priceless fleet carriers “Enterprise”, “Lexington” and “Saratoga” were fortunately absent and the large oil stocks and important repair installations left virtually untouched.




Indian & Pacific Oceans

West - Malaya and Burma - On the last day of January, the retreating British, Australian and Indian troops in Malaya withdrew into Singapore Island, having been driven down the length of the Malay Peninsula. By then carrier "Indomitable" had flown off 48 Hurricanes for Singapore via Java.



11th-13th - The Channel Dash - The Brest Squadron with "Scharnhorst", "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen", heavily escorted by air and other naval forces, left late on the 11th for Germany in Operation 'Cerberus'. The aim was to pass through the Strait of Dover around noon the next day. A number of problems conspired to prevent the RAF standing patrols detecting their departure. The first intimation of the breakout came with a RAF report around 10.45 on the 12th as the German force steamed towards Boulogne. This left little time for attacks to be mounted. Soon after midday the first was made by five motor torpedo boats from Dover and six Fleet Air Arm Swordfish torpedo-bombers of 825 Squadron (Lt-Cdr Esmonde), but no hits were made. All Swordfish were shot down. Lt-Cdr Eugene Esmonde was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Before they reached German ports both battlecruisers were damaged by mines. After further damage in air raids, "Gneisenau" never went to sea again.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Australia - Aircraft from four of the Pearl Harbor Strike carriers raided Darwin, Northern Territories on the 19th. One American destroyer and a number of valuable transports were lost.

MARCH 1942


1st-12th - Russian Convoy PQ12 and Return QP8 - By now German battleship "Tirpitz", the ship that dictated Royal Navy policies in northern waters for so long, had been joined in Norway by pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer". The next Russia-bound and return convoys therefore set out on the same day, the 1st, so they could be covered by the Home Fleet with battleships "Duke of York", "Renown", "King George V" and carrier "Victorious". On the 4th, cruiser "Sheffield" was damaged on a mine off Iceland as she sailed to join the cover force. Convoys PQ12 and QP8 passed to the southwest of Bear Island and with "Tirpitz" reported at sea, the Home Fleet tried to place itself between her and the convoys. There was no contact between the surface ships, but on the 9th, aircraft from "Victorious" attacked but failed to hit "Tirpitz" off the Lofoten Islands. Of the 31 merchantmen in two convoys, only one straggler from QP8 was lost to the German force.

APRIL 1942


Malta - President Roosevelt lent US carrier "Wasp" to ferry nearly 50 Spitfires to the Island. Escort was provided by battlecruiser "Renown", cruisers "Cairo" and "Charybdis" and six destroyers including two American. Sadly most of the aircraft were destroyed by bombing attacks soon after landing on the 20th.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

5th-9th - Japanese Carrier Attacks on Ceylon - A new Eastern Fleet had been assembled under the command of Adm Sir James Somerville, recently of Force H. The variety of ships were split into two groups. A fast group included battleship "Warspite", carriers "Indomitable" and "Formidable", heavy cruisers "Cornwall" and "Dorsetshire", two light cruisers plus destroyers. In the slower group were four 'R' class battleships, old carrier "Hermes" and some cruisers and destroyers. Two Australian destroyers accompanied each group. As the Ceylon bases of Colombo and Trincomalee were poorly defended and too far forward, Adm Somerville was operating out of the secret base of Addu Atoll in the Maldive Islands, SW of Ceylon. Early in April, two Japanese forces headed into the Indian Ocean. One under Adm Ozawa with carrier "Ryujo" and six cruisers made for the Bay of Bengal and east coast of India. In a matter of days 23 ships of 112,000 tons were sunk. Japanese submarines sank a further five off the Indian west coast. Bad as this threat was, the real one came from the carrier strike force of Adm Nagumo with five Pearl Harbor carriers - "Akagi", "Hiryu", "Soryu", "Shokaku" and "Zuikaku" - plus four battleships and three cruisers.

The Japanese fleet was first sighted on the 4th south of Ceylon, and shipping cleared from the ports. In the morning of the 5th a heavy raid on Colombo sank destroyer "TENEDOS" and armed merchant cruiser "HECTOR". Heavy cruisers "CORNWALL" and "DORSETSHIRE" were to the southwest, sailing from Colombo to rejoin the Royal Navy's fast group. Found at noon they soon went to the bottom under a series of aircraft attacks. But Adm Nagumo had not yet finished. As Adm Somerville's two groups searched for the Japanese from a position between Addu Atoll and Ceylon, they circled round to the east. From there, on the 9th, Japanese aircraft found the shipping cleared from Trincomalee and back on its way in. Carrier "HERMES", Australian destroyer "VAMPIRE" and corvette "HOLLYHOCK" were amongst those that soon went down. The Japanese carrier force left the Indian Ocean, never to return again. Not knowing this, the surviving ships of the Royal Navy withdrew - the slow group to Kilindini in East Africa and the other to the Bombay area.

The Doolittle Raid - American B-25 bombers under the command of Col Doolittle took off from US carrier "Hornet" for the first ever raid on Japan on the 18th. Damage was slight, but the strategic implications were to prove fatal to the Japanese.  

Strategic and Maritime Situation - Pacific Ocean - The "Doolittle Raid" made a decisive impact on Japanese strategy. The Allies had to be kept away from the homeland. Japanese conquests would be extended both to the southeast and east. Landings would made at Port Moresby to bring Australia within bomber range; the southern Solomons and beyond taken to cut US-Australia supply lines; and Midway Island and the Aleutians occupied to isolate Pearl Harbor. Each of these three moves led to three famous battles - Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, and Midway, two of them involving only carrier aircraft. Thereafter the Japanese were on the defensive.

MAY 1942


Malta - USS Wasp and the "Eagle" flew off a further 60 Spitfires to Malta on the 9th. More were ferried in by "Eagle" and "Argus" a week or so later. This time they were kept safe on arrival.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

8th - Landings at Diego Saurez, Madagascar: Operation 'Ironclad' - Concerned about the Japanese carrier sorties into the Indian Ocean and the vulnerability of the Cape of Good Hope/Middle East convoy routes, Britain decided to take Diego Saurez at the north end of Vichy French Madagascar. Under the command of Rear-Adm E. N. Syfret (recently appointed to Force H), a large force of ships including battleship "Ramillies" and carriers "Indomitable" and "Illustrious" assembled at Durban, South Africa towards the end of April. The assault took place on 5th May in Courrier Bay to the west of Diego Saurez. The advance on Diego Saurez was held up and next day a Royal Marine unit stormed the town from the sea. By the 7th the fighting was over and the important anchorage was in British hands. On the 7th and 8th, French submarines "LE HEROS" and "MONGE" were sunk by joint air and sea attacks.

Papua New Guinea and British Solomon Islands - Sailing from Rabaul, a Japanese invasion force headed for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea covered by light carrier "Shoho" and cruisers. Distant cover was given by a carrier strike force of two fleet carriers. From the Coral Sea, aircraft of US carriers "Lexington" and "Yorktown", with a support group including Australian cruisers "Australia" and "Hobart" searched for them. First success in the Battle of the Coral Sea went to the Americans on the 7th when their planes sank "SHOHO" off the eastern tip of New Guinea. Next day, on the 8th, more aircraft strikes put fleet carrier "Shokaku" out of action on one side and sank "LEXINGTON" and damaged "Yorktown" on the other. A draw in naval terms, the battle was a strategic defeat for the Japanese as the invasion ships turned back, leaving Port Moresby, so close to the north tip of Australia, safe for now. Throughout the battle, neither side's ships sighted each other - the first time in naval history a major action had taken place in this way. Before the battle started, the Japanese took the opportunity to occupy a small island called Tulagi in the southern Solomons, close to a larger island known as Guadalcanal.

JUNE 1942


Malta - Early in the month carrier "Eagle" ferried over 50 Spitfires to Malta in two operations. By now the Germans had transferred many of their aircraft to Russia. This, together with the arrival of yet more RAF fighters, eased the terrible burden Malta had suffered for so long.

2nd - Attacks on Allied shipping making for Tobruk before its fall brought further losses to both sides. Aircraft of FAA 815 Squadron and RAF No 203 Squadron damaged "U-652" off Sollum on the Egyptian/Libyan border. She was scuttled by a torpedo fired from "U-81".

12th-16th - Malta Convoy 'Harpoon' from Gibraltar - Six escorted merchantmen passed through the Strait of Gibraltar covered by battleship "Malaya", carriers "Argus" and "Eagle", cruisers "Kenya", "Charybdis", "Liverpool" and destroyers. Attacks by Italian aircraft on the 14th led to the first merchant ship going down south of Sardinia. "Liverpool" was also damaged and had to return. Later that day at the entrance to the Strait of Sicily, the big ship cover force turned back. After further attacks by an Italian two-cruiser squadron in conjunction with Italian and German aircraft, just two of 'Harpoon's' six ships reached Malta for the loss of two destroyers and serious damage to three more and a cruiser.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Midway and the Aleutians - Adm Yamamoto, with over 130 ships in a number of separate groups, set out to seize Midway island, occupy the western Aleutians, attack the eastern end, and draw out the Pacific Fleet for destruction. At the heart of the armada was the First Carrier Fleet (Adm Nagumo) with four of the Pearl Harbor attack carriers. The Americans had far fewer ships, but these included carriers "Enterprise", "Hornet" and "Yorktown" barely repaired after the Battle of the Coral Sea. Battle of Midway - On the 3rd, Dutch Harbor, close to Alaska, was attacked from two light carriers. But the main battle was far to the south off Midway between the carrier aircraft of both sides. On the 4th/5th in the close run battle, all four Japanese carriers - "AKAGI", "HIRYU", "KAGA" and "SORYU" went down. "YORKTOWN" was badly damaged and finished off by a Japanese submarine on the 7th. The Japanese forces retreated, Midway was spared, and the Allies had their first major strategic victory of World War 2. However, the Japanese Navy remained strong, with more carriers in the Pacific than the Americans.

JULY 1942


Destruction of Russian Convoy PQ17 - PQ17 left Reykjavik, Iceland with 36 ships, of which two returned. The close escort included six destroyers and four corvettes. Two British and two US cruisers with destroyers were in support, and distant cover was given by the Home Fleet with battleships "Duke of York" and the US "Washington", carrier "Victorious", cruisers and destroyers. The British Admiralty believed the Germans were concentrating their heavy ships in northern Norway. In fact pocket battleship "Lutzow" had run aground off Narvik, but this still left battleship "Tirpitz", pocket battleship "Admiral Scheer" and heavy cruiser "Admiral Hipper" - all formidable adversaries, which reached Altenfiord on the 3rd. At this time PQ17 had just passed to the north of Bear Island, after which German aircraft sank three merchantmen. Fear of attack by the German ships led the First Sea Lord, Adm Pound, far away in London, to decide the fate of the convoy. In the evening of the 4th the support cruisers were ordered to withdraw and the convoy to scatter. Thirty-one merchantmen tried to make for the isolated islands of Novaya Zemlya before heading south for Russian ports. Between the 5th and 10th July, 20 of them were lost, half each to the aircraft and U-boats sent to hunt them down. Some sheltered for days off the bleak shores of Novaya Zemlya. Eventually 11 survivors and two rescue ships reached Archangel and nearby ports between the 9th and 28th. No more Russian convoys ran until September 1942.


Malta - Carrier "Eagle" again flew off Spitfires for Malta.



10th-15th - Malta Convoy: Operation 'Pedestal' - For Malta to survive another convoy had to be fought through. The biggest operation ever was mounted from the Gibraltar end. A total of fourteen merchantmen, including two American and the British-manned tanker "Ohio" had a massive escort. Close in were cruisers "Nigeria", "Kenya", "Manchester" and "Cairo" and 12 destroyers. Covering were the three fleet carriers "Eagle", "Indomitable" and "Victorious", battleships "Nelson" and "Rodney", three cruisers and another 12 destroyers. The opportunity was taken for carrier "Furious" to fly off 38 Spitfires for Malta. The Mediterranean Fleet would try to distract the enemy at the other end of the Mediterranean. In overall command of 'Pedestal' was Vice-Adm E. N. Syfret. The convoy passed Gibraltar on the 10th and from the next day was subjected to increasingly intense attacks by submarines, aircraft and later coastal forces. Early on the afternoon of the 11th, "Furious" sent off her Spitfires and later that day headed back for Gibraltar. On the 12th one of her escorting destroyers "Wolverine", rammed and sank Italian submarine "DAGABUR" off Algiers.

Still on the 11th and now north of Algiers, "EAGLE" was torpedoed four times by "U-73" and went down. Air attacks took place later that day and early on the 12th, but not until noon, south of Sardinia, did they gain their first success. Italian and German aircraft slightly damaged "Victorious" and hit a merchantman which later sank. More submarines then appeared and the Italian "COBALTO" was rammed by destroyer "Ithuriel". Once the convoy was north of Bizerta, Tunisia, submarine, aircraft and Italian MTB (mas) attacks came fast and furiously. At 18.30, still on the 12th, aircraft badly damaged "Indomitable" putting her out of action and destroyer "FORESIGHT" was torpedoed by an Italian bomber and scuttled next day. The main Royal Navy cover force next turned back at the entrance to the 100 mile wide Strait of Sicily. The convoy carried on, still with 13 of the original 14 merchantmen afloat and its close escort of four cruisers and 12 destroyers. In the next few hours, two cruisers were sunk and two damaged in Italian MTB and submarine attacks. Now into the afternoon of the 13th, three merchant ships reached Malta. The fourth struggled in next day, but the crippled "Ohio", lashed to destroyer "Penn", only made port on the 15th. By now the close escort had just returned to Gibraltar. Only five out of fourteen transports had got through to Malta for the loss of one aircraft carrier, two cruisers and a destroyer sunk, and a carrier and two cruisers badly damaged. But the supplies delivered - and especially "Ohio's" oil - were enough to sustain Malta as an offensive base at a time critical to the coming Battle of El Alamein. More was still needed however, and only two days after "Ohio's" arrival, "Furious" flew off more Spitfires while submarines continued to make supply trips.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands - The Japanese were now extending their hold in the southern Solomons and building an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal. From there they could move against the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and other islands along the supply routes to Australia and New Zealand. After the Japanese presence was discovered, the US 1st Marine Division was landed on the 7th, soon capturing the airstrip which was renamed Henderson Field. Close cover was provided by a force of American and Australian cruisers. Battle of the Eastern Solomons - On the 24th, Japanese and American carrier groups covering supply operations to Guadalcanal were in action to the east of the Solomons island chain. Japanese light carrier "RYUJO" was sunk and the American "Enterprise" damaged.

Indian Ocean - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet carried out diversionary moves in the Indian Ocean at the time of the Guadalcanal landings. But he was continually losing ships to other theatres and by month's end was down to battleships "Warspite", "Valiant", carrier "Illustrious" and a few cruisers and destroyers.



Russian Convoy PQ18 - PQ18 left Loch Ewe in Scotland on the 2nd with over 40 merchantmen. The hard learnt lessons of PQ17 and previous convoys were not forgotten. Close escort was provided by 17 warships plus escort carrier "Avenger" and two destroyers. Two separate forces were in support - close cover by AA cruiser "Scylla" and 16 fleet destroyers under Rear-Adm R L Burnett, and further out three heavy cruisers. More distant cover was by Vice-Adm Sir Bruce Fraser with battleships "Anson" and "Duke of York", a light cruiser and destroyers to the northeast of Iceland. German heavy ships moved to Altenfiord but did not sortie. Instead the attacks were mounted by bombers and torpedo aircraft as well as U-boats. On the 13th, aircraft torpedoed nine ships, but next day "Avenger's" Hurricanes ensured only one more ship was lost to air attack. In total over 40 German aircraft were shot down by the convoy's defences. U-boats sank three merchantmen but lost three of their number to Adm Burnett's forces. Destroyers "Faulknor", "Onslow" and "Impulsive" sank "U-88", "U-589" and "U-457" respectively between the 12th and 16th in the Greenland and Barents Seas. Escort carrier "Avenger's" Swordfish from 825 Squadron helped with the destruction of "Onslow's" U-boat on the 14th. Of the original 40 ships, 27 reached Archangel on the 17th. In late 1941, escort carrier "Audacity" closed the Gibraltar air-gap for the first time. "Avenger" had now done the same for the Russian route. However, further convoys had to be postponed as ships were transferred in preparation for the North African landings.

Battle of the Atlantic - A long felt need started to be met when Adm Noble formed the first convoy support groups. These highly trained flotillas were used to reinforce the escorts of convoys under heavy attack, and although called Escort Groups should not be confused with the groups of 1941, often temporary in nature and with a diversity of ship types. Some of the new Escort Groups were formed around the escort carriers now entering service - the first since "Audacity" lost in December 1941. Unfortunately none of them would be available to fight the Battle of the Atlantic for another six months: they were needed for the invasion of French North Africa.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Guadalcanal, British Solomon Islands - As the two sides struggled to build up their forces, more fighting took place for possession of Henderson Field. An old friend of the Royal Navy and Malta was lost when US carrier "WASP" was torpedoed by submarine "I-19" on the 15th, yet another casualty of the attempts to reinforce the island. Only carrier "Hornet" remained operational in the South Pacific, but she was joined by the repaired "Enterprise" in October.



Battle of the Atlantic - Losses continued high in the North Atlantic, many in the air-gaps on the transatlantic routes which aircraft could not reach from Newfoundland, Iceland, Northern Ireland. Apart from escort carriers, more very long range (VLR) aircraft were needed by RAF Coastal Command.


Malta - At the end of the month, carrier "Furious" flew off Spitfires to Malta. The island was even now short of supplies and the little getting through was carried by submarines and cruiser-minelayers.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands - As the struggle carried on for the island's one airfield, supply and support operations led to another major naval battle: Battle of Santa Cruz - From Truk, a large Japanese carrier and battleship task force approached the southern Solomons to support a major land attack on Henderson Field. On the 26th they were in action with a much smaller US carrier group north of the Santa Cruz Islands. "HORNET" was lost and "Enterprise" put out of action in exchange for heavy damage to the carrier "Shokaku". The damaged "Enterprise" was now the only US carrier in the South Pacific. Adm King, US Navy Commander-in-Chief, asked for the loan of a fleet carrier from the Royal Navy. Anglo-US relations were strained when problems arose about the need to re-equip with US aircraft, but "Victorious" was ordered out in December.


4th - Second Battle of El Alamein had been won by Eighth Army


15th - The Germans reacted to the 'Torch' landings on French North Africa (following) by concentrating U-boats off Morocco and to the west of Gibraltar. A number of empty transports were sunk, and on the 15th escort carrier "AVENGER" sailing with return convoy MKF1 was torpedoed by "U-155" and went down off the Strait of Gibraltar. Only 12 men survive.

21st - Aircraft of 817 Squadron from fleet carrier "Victorious" account for "U-517" southwest of Ireland.


8th - French North African Landings: Operation 'Torch' - Plans were formally approved in October, by which time the large amounts of shipping needed had been organised and assembled. To provide them, Russian convoys and those to and from Britain and Gibraltar/West Africa had been suspended and the Home Fleet stripped bare. The Allies' greatest concern was the hundred or more U-boats at sea. The landing force for Casablanca included US fleet carrier "Ranger" and escort carriers "Sangamon", "Chenango", "Suwanee" and "Santee"; for Oran in Algeria, British escort carriers "Biter" and "Dasher"; and for Algiers itself, the old "Argus" and escort carrier "Avenger". In the Mediterranean, British Force H reinforced by Home Fleet and under the command of Vice-Adm Sir Neville Syfret, covered the Algerian landings. Their main task was to hold off any attack by the Italian fleet. Strength included three capital ships, three fleet carriers ("Victorious", "Formidable" and the old "Furious" (below)), three cruisers and 17 destroyers. Over 300 ships were directly involved in what at that time was the greatest amphibious operation in history, and the forerunner of even greater ones to come.


17th - "U-331" was damaged by RAF Hudsons of No 500 Squadron and tried to surrender. Aircraft of 820 Squadron from carrier "Formidable" torpedoed her in error off Algiers.

Since Operation 'Excess' in January 1941, two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, 16 destroyers and five submarines had been lost in the many attempts to supply and reinforce the island, and in the heavy air attacks launched against the George Cross island.



PROSPECTS FOR ALLIED VICTORY  - The Russians gained a famous victory with the German surrender at Stalingrad in January 1943. Taken with the October 1942 British Battle of El Alamein and June 1942 American carrier Battle of Midway, the three Allied successes were usually considered as marking the turning point in the 40 month old war against the Axis powers. The Battle for Guadalcanal, ending as it did Japanese hopes of controlling the South West Pacific should also be added to this roll-call of victory.


Indian & Pacific Oceans

Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands: Conclusion - By the 8th, Japanese destroyers had quietly evacuated over 10,000 troops from the Cape Esperance area. This marked the end of one of the most intense struggles ever for a single island. In the seven main naval battles alone, US losses had been one carrier, six cruisers and eight destroyers plus the "Wasp" and Australian "Canberra". Japanese losses were two battleships, one carrier, a cruiser and six destroyers.

MARCH 1943


Battle of the Atlantic - The first five Royal Navy support groups with modern radars, anti-submarine weapons and HF/DF were released for operation in the North Atlantic. Two were built around Home Fleet destroyers, two around Western Approaches escorts, including Capt Walker's 2nd Escort Group, and one with escort carrier "Biter". Escort carriers "Archer" and the American "Bogue" were also ready for action, but "Dasher" was unfortunately lost in UK waters. Nevertheless, the mid-Atlantic air gap was about to be finally closed.


27th - Escort carrier "DASHER" worked up in the Firth of Clyde after repairs to damage sustained during the February Russian convoy JW53. An aviation gasoline explosion led to her total destruction.

PACIFIC OCEAN - STRATEGIC AND MARITIME SITUATION - At the Casablanca Conference in January, the Allied strategy for the South West Pacific was agreed. Twin offensives were to be mounted up the Solomons and along the New Guinea coast (and thence across to New Britain), leading to the capture of the main Japanese base at Rabaul - later by-passed. Breaking through the Bismarck Archipelago in this way would open the route to the Philippines. American strategy was subsequently revised to allow for a parallel push through the Japanese mandated islands to the north. Gen MacArthur, C-in-C, South West Pacific, had full responsibility for the New Guinea area, and Adm Halsey as C-in-C, South Pacific, tactical command of the Solomons. This overlapping caused some complications. The US Seventh Fleet was formed to support Gen MacArthur's campaigning in New Guinea. Main US naval strength would remain with Adm Halsey's Third Fleet and its growing carrier task forces in the South Pacific Command area.

MAY 1943


The May 1943 Convoy Battles - Victory of the Escorts

At the beginning of the month over 40 U-boats were deployed in three patrol lines off Greenland and Newfoundland. Another group operated to the far west of the Bay of Biscay. A number were passing through the northern transit area and over 30 on passage between their Biscay bases and the North Atlantic. More still were on patrol in the South Atlantic or passing through. There were numerous Allied convoys crossing the North Atlantic as suitable targets. Only those convoy battles involving escort carriers are summarised:

Slow UK/North America ONS6 - 31 ships escorted by British B6 group and 4th EG with escort carrier "Archer"; no merchant ship losses.

North America/UK HX237 - 46 ships escorted by Canadian C2 group and 5th EG with escort carrier "Biter". Three stragglers sunk in exchange for possibly three U-boats in mid-Atlantic, including: 12th - "U-89" to destroyer "Broadway" and frigate "Lagan", both of C2 group, assisted by Swordfish of 811 Squadron from "Biter".

North America/UK SC129 - 26 ships escorted by British B2 group, with 5th EG (escort carrier "Biter") transferred from HX237 on the 14th. Two merchant ships lost in mid-Atlantic in exchange for two U-boats.

UK/North America ON182 - 56 ships escorted by Canadian C5 group, with 4th EG (carrier "Archer") transferred from ONS6; no merchant ship losses.

UK/NorthAmerica ON184 - 39 ships escorted by Canadian C1 group and US 6th EG with escort carrier "Bogue". No merchant ship losses in exchange for one U-boat: 22nd - "U-569" in mid-Atlantic to Avengers flying from "Bogue".

North America/UK HX239 - 42 ships escorted by British B3 group and 4th EG (carrier "Archer") transferred from ON182 (and before that ONS6). No merchant ship losses in exchange for one more U-boat: 23rd - In the first success with aircraft rockets, "U-752" in mid-Atlantic was badly damaged by "Archer's" Swordfish of 819 Squadron, and scuttled as surface escorts approach.

By the 24th, U-boat losses were so heavy and the attacks so fruitless, Adm Doenitz ordered his captains to leave the North Atlantic battlefield. They either returned home or concentrated on the US/Gibraltar routes. It was some time before the Allies realised the North Atlantic was almost free of U-boats. The air and sea escorts were winning.

Indian & Pacific Oceans

Royal Navy in the Pacific - After re-equipping with American aircraft and working-up out of Pearl Harbor, fleet carrier "Victorious" joined the Third Fleet under Adm Halsey seven months after a first USN request was made. From now until August 1943, she and "Saratoga" were the only Allied big carriers in the South Pacific. In the few months she was out there, there was not one carrier battle to follow on the 1942 Battles of Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz.

Merchant Shipping War - Adm Somerville's Eastern Fleet had lost its remaining carrier, two battleships and many smaller vessels to other theatres.

JUNE 1943


Monthly Loss Summary - 16 German and 1 Italian U-boats including two to US escort carrier "Bogue" off the Azores


on to Part 3, Carrier Warfare, 1943-45
back to Campaigns of World War 2

revised 8/7/11