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by Lt Cdr Geoffrey B Mason RN (Rtd) (c) 2006

HMS FORMIDABLE - Illustrious-class Fleet Aircraft Carrier
including Convoy Escort Movements

HMS Formidable (Navy Photos, click to enlarge) return to Contents List  

ILLUSTRIOUS-Class Fleet Aircraft Carrier ordered on 19th March 1937 from Harland and Wolff Ltd. at Belfast  under the 1937 Programme. The ship was laid down on 17th June that year and launched on 17th August 1939.  She was the 6th RN ship to carry the name, introduced for a Prize taken in 1759 at Quiberon Bay and last used  for a 1898 battleship sunk in 1915. The launching ceremony was marred by the death of two civilians killed by falling debris. Build was completed in November 1940. The civil community of the city of Westminster after a  successful adopted HMS FORMIDABLE WARSHIP WEEK National Savings campaign in March 1942.



B a t t l e   H o n o u r s


THE SAINTES 1782 - MATAPAN 1941 - CRETE 1941- MEDITERRANEAN 1941 - EAST INDIES 1941 - NORTH AFRICA 1942-43 - S1C1LY 1943 - SALERNO  1943 - NORWAY 1944*  - OKINAWA 1945 - JAPAN 1945

(* The award of the Battle Honour  NORWAY 1944 is not included in any of the standard references. The ship took part in the operations against the German battleship TIRPITZ and the Battle Honour was awarded to the aircraft carrier HMS FURIOUS which also took part. This inexplicable omission has been drawn to the attention of the Naval Historical Branch in the Defence Ministry.)

H e r a l d i c   D a t a

Badge :  On a Field Blue, five tridents in saltire gold.



De t a i l s   o f   W a r   S e r v i c e


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



1 9 4 0


October                  Acceptance trials and commissioning. Second aircraft carrier fitted with

                                aircraft warning radar (Type 279).

                                (For details of development and use of radar by RN See RADAR AT SEA

                                by D Howse).


November              Joined Home Fleet and worked up

                24th        Deployed in Force C at Freetown with HM Cruiser NORFOLK for convoy

                                defence and interception of supply ships and commerce raiders.


December              Searched for German battleship SCHEER and other commerce raiders in Atlantic.

                                (See ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY by Corelli Barnett).


1 9 4 1


January                  Transferred to Mediterranean to replace HM Aircraft Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS

                                which had been seriously damaged in air attacks.

                                (See THE BATTLE FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN by D MacIntyre).

                                Took passage to Alexandria via Cape of Good Hope.


February                Deployed with East Indies Fleet for support of military operations in Somaliland.

                                Air minelays carried out off Mogadishu (Operation BREACH).


March                    On release from BREACH continued passage to Suez.

                10th        Joined Mediterranean Fleet after delay due mines which had closed Suez Canal.

                20th        Deployed with HM Battleships BARHAM, VALIANT and WARSPITE, HM Cruisers

                                GLOUCESTER, YORK and destroyer screen to cover passage of Convoy MW6.

                                (Operation MC9)

                27th        Joined HMS WARSPITE and HMS BARHAM to intercept Italian Fleet.

                28th        Successful torpedo attacks on Italian cruisers resulted in Battle of Matapan.

                                (See MATAPAN by SW Pack and Naval Staff History).

                29th        Broke up air attacks on Fleet during passage back to Alexandria.


April                       Deployed with Fleet to cover passage of Convoy ME7.

                21st         Provided cover during Fleet bombardment of Tripoli escorted by HM Cruisers

                                ORION, PERTH (RAN), AJAX and 4 Fleet destroyers (Force C).

                                Aircraft illuminated shore targets (Operation MD2).

                22nd       Aircraft shot down two Ju88 when Fleet was attacked on return passage.



                10th        Joined Fleet operation to cover transit of Convoy MW7 from Alexandria and

                                passage of military convoy from Sicilian Channel (Operation TIGER).

                20th        Lack of fighter aircraft delayed sailing to assist in defence of Crete.

                26th        Under sustained air attacks during passage to launch strikes on Scarpanto

                                airfield. Major structural damage including X Turret and Flight Deck


                                (For details of naval activities in the Mediterranean see THE BATTLE FOR

                                THE MEDITERRANEAN and Naval Staff History.)


June                        Passage to USA via Cape of Good Hope for repair.


July                         Under repair

to                            Preparations for installation of additional radars carried out.

November              (See RADAR AT SEA).


December              Post refit trials.

                                Joint passage to UK with HM Aircraft Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS.

               12th        In collision with ILLUSTRIOUS whilst on passage (see Addendum).


1 9 4 2


January                  Returned to UK to prepare for service with Eastern Fleet.

                                (Note : Radar Type 281 to replace Type 279 installed after arrival).

                                Two fire control radars Type 265 fitted for anti-aircraft mountings).

                                Sea trials on radar equipments.



                15th        Passage to Indian Ocean as part of escort for military convoy to Middle

                                East via Cape of Good Hope.

                                (Note : CinC Designate, Eastern Fleet, Vice Admiral Sir James Somerville

                                embarked to take up appointment).



                2nd         Sailed from Freetown.

                10th        Arrived at Capetown.

                26th        Joined Eastern Fleet.

                                (Note : This ship was in need of extensive training of air group before she could

                                be an effective fighting unit).

                31st         Deployed with HMS WARSPITE, HM Aircraft Carrier INDOMITABLE, HM Cruisers

                                CORNWALL, EMERALD and ENTERPRISE as Force A.

                                Searched for Japanese force reported on passage towards Ceylon.

                                Damaged propeller and withdrawn from search


April                       Under repair at Bombay.

                23rd        On completion of repair took passage to rejoin Fleet at Mombasa.

                                (For details of naval activities in Indian Ocean in 1942 see RELUCTANT ENEMIES

                                by W Tute, ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY by Corelli Barnett.

                                THE FORGOTTEN FLEET by J Winton, OPERATION PACIFIC by Edwin Gray and

                                Naval Staff History.


                5th          Deployed NE of Madagascar to provide cover against Japanese air attacks during

                                the landings. (Operation IRONCLAD - See above references)).

                                MARTLET aircraft shot down Japanese HK6 seaplane after detection by radar

                                during passage to refuel in Seychelles.

                10th        Based at Kilindini for convoy defence and operational sweeps in Indian Ocean.

                29th        Took part in Fleet training with HM Battleship WARSPITE, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and

                                HM Cruiser GAMBIA during passage to Ceylon from Kilindini.


June                        Convoy defence and interception duty with Eastern Fleet in Indian Ocean.




August                  Aircraft intercepted and destroyed Japanese Flying Boat in Indian Ocean.

                24th        Transferred to Mediterranean to replace HMS INDOMITABLE and took

                                passage to UK.


September             Embarked SEAFIRE aircraft before sailing to Mediterranean.


October                  Aircraft Direction facilities provided to improve control of aircraft by use of

                                radio telephone based on radar information.

                30th        Sailed for Gibraltar to provide air cover during planned landings in North Africa.

                                (Operation TORCH - See above references and Naval Staff History).


November              Passage to Gibraltar

                                Deployed with HMS VICTORIOUS and HMS FURIOUS in Force H on arrival

                                at Gibraltar.

                8th          Deployed 30 miles north of Algiers to provide air cover during landings

                13th        Aircraft destroyed shore battery on Cape Matifu.

                17th        Aircraft of 820 Squadron sank U331 in position 37.05N 2.24E (NW Algiers).

                                (Note : Submarine had already been under attack by aircraft of 500 Bomber Sqdn,

                                RAF and surrendered but this was not known by pilots of 820 Squadron.


December              Deployed in western Mediterranean in support of military operations and for

                                defence of military convoys.


1 9 4 3


January                  Convoy defence in western Atlantic and Mediterranean including Convoy KMF3.


February                Western Mediterranean deployment in continuation.


March                    Based at Algiers in continuation and for interception of enemy supply convoys.



                5th          Transferred to Alexandria for convoy defence in Eastern Mediterranean.


May                        Convoy defence and support of military operations.




July                         Carried out diversionary operation north of Crete and covered passage of convoys

                                to Central Mediterranean for planned assault landings.

                7th          Sailed from Malta with HM Battleships VALIANT and WARSPITE escorted by HM Cruisers

                                AURORA and PENELOPE screened by six destroyers. Deployed in Tyrrhenian Sea to

                                provided cover for military convoys from Alexandria during on passage in eastern

                                Mediterranean for assault landings.

                8th          Under air attacks

                9th          Joined HM Battleships NELSON, RODNEY and HM Fleet Aircraft Carrier

                                INDOMITABLE, HM Cruisers AURORA and PENELOPE in Gulf of Sirte to cover the

                                assault phase of Sicily invasion against interference from Italian surface units.

                                (Operation HUSKY) - See ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY and Naval

                                Staff History).

                10th        Provided air cover during landings and build-up phases.



                15th        Under attacks by Italian torpedo bombers during which HMS INDOMITABLE was

                                hit and had to be withdrawn from operation (See RADAR AT SEA).


August                  Based in Malta and provided air cover for ships deployed off Sicily.


September             Support of military operations in continuation.

                8th          Joined covering force with HMS NELSON, HMS RODNEY, HMS WARSPITE, HMS

                                VALIANT and HMS ILLUSTRIOUS for air defence during landings at Salerno.

                                (Operation AVALANCHE - See above references).

                                (HMS ILLUSTRIOUS had replaced HMS INDOMITABLE - See above)


October                  Deployed in support of military operations off Italian coast.

                                Released from Mediterranean operations and took passage to UK.


November              Deployed with Home Fleet

                2nd         Provided Distant Cover for return Convoy RA54 from Kola Inlet with HM

                                Battleship ANSON, HM Cruisers JAMAICA screened by HM Destroyers ONSLOW,

                                VENUS, HAIDA (RCN), Norwegian STORD, US destroyers USS CAPPS and USS



December              Home Fleet deployment in continuation


1 9 4 4


January                  Passage to UK for refit.


February                Under refit.

to                            Aircraft warning radar equipment modernised (Radar Types 281B and 79B fitted

April                       in order to provide efficient cover at all altitudes.

                                Surface warning radar fitted (Type 277 - See RADAR AT SEA).


May                        Post refit trials


June                        On completion embarked aircraft and prepared for operational service.


July                         Deployed with Home Fleet based at Scapa Flow.

                17th        Launched unsuccessful air attacks on German battleship TIRPITZ in Altenfjord

                                with HM Aircraft Carriers INDEFATIGABLE and FURIOUS covered by HM Battleship

                                DUKE OF YORK. Target was obscured by smoke screen after early warning of


                                (Operation MASCOT - See CONVOY ! by P Kemp).


August                  Home Fleet deployment in continuation.

                                Prepared for air attacks on TIRPITZ (Operation GOODWOOD Series).

                22nd       Repeated air attacks on TIRPITZ with HMS FURIOUS, HMS INDEFATIGABLE and

                                HM Escort Carrier NABOB. These were unsuccessful due to weather conditions.

                24th        Further air attacks on TIRPITZ with HMS FURIOUS and HMS INDEFATIGABLE.

                                Two hits were reported.

                29th        Unsuccessful air attacks on TIRPITZ with HMS INDEFATIGABLE.

                                (Note : The lack of significant success by Fleet Air Arm attacks resulted in the

                                decision to use heavy bombers for this task).

                                No official record of Battle Honour NORWAY 1944 can be traced for either


September             Nominated for service with British Pacific Fleet after refit.


October                  Taken in hand for refit at Gibraltar with extensive machinery repair carried out.


November              Under refit.




1 9 4 5.


January                  Post refit trials.


February                Passage to join 5th US Fleet for air operations in Pacific.



                10th        Arrived at Sydney.

                                Passage to Manus to join British Pacific Fleet.



                4th          Arrived Leyte for Joint RN/USN flying operations in Task Force 57.

                                (Task Force 57 comprised :-

                                HM Battleships KING GEORGE V and Howe - Task Group 57.1.

                                HM Aircraft Carriers INDOMITABLE, VICTORIOUS, ILLUSTRIOUS and

                                INDEFATIGABLE - Task Group 57.2.

                                HM Cruisers SWIFTSURE, GAMBIA (RNZN), BLACK PRINCE and ARGONAUT

                                -Task Group 57-3

                                HM Cruiser EURYALUS, HM Destroyers GRENVILLE, ULSTER, UNDINE,

                                URANIA, UNDAUNTED, WHELP and WAGER, HM Australian Destroyers

                                QUICKMATCH, QUIBERON, QUEENBOROUGH and QUALITY - Task Group 57.8.

                14th        Joined HM Aircraft Carriers INDOMITABLE, VICTORIOUS, ILLUSTRIOUS and

                                INDEFATIGABLE in Task Group 57.2 as replacement for HMS ILLUSTRIOUS.

                                Took part in air operations to neutralise Japanese airfields in Sakishima Gunto

                                Group during US landings in Okinawa.

                                (Operation ICEBERG I- For details see TASK FORCE 57 by Peter C Smith,

                                ENGAGE THE ENEMY MORE CLOSELY, THE FORGOTTEN FLEET BY J Winton

                                and Naval Staff History).

                                Under sustained 'suicide' aerial attacks by BAKA piloted bombs.

                20th        Withdrew from operational area with ships of Task Force 57.

                23rd        Arrived at Leyte for R&R period.



                1st           Sailed for operational area with ships of Task Force 57.

                                (Note: HM Cruisers EURYALUS and UGANDA (RCN) had joined Task Group 57.5

                                in place of HMS ARGONAUT.

                                Task Group 57.8 then comprised HM Destroyers GRENVILLE,

                                URSA, UNDINE, URCHIN, URANIA, UNDAUNTED, KEMPENFELT,

                                WHIRLWIND, WESSEX and HM Australian Destroyers

                                QUIBERON, QUEENBOROUGH, QUICKMATCH and QUALITY.

                4th          Resumed flying operations off Sakishima Gunto.

                                (Operation ICEBERG II - See above references).

                                Provided air cover and fall of shot spotting during bombardment of airfields by

                                HM Battleships KING GEORGE V and HOWE.

                                During sustained KAMIKAZE attacks aircraft crashed on flight deck.

                                Bomb detonated abreast Island structure.

                                11 aircraft destroyed and Boiler Room damage reduced speed to 18 knots.

                                Casualties included 3 killed and 47 wounded).

                                Note: Cruisers of TF57 had been detached with HM Battleships KING GEORGE V

                                and HOWE to carry out bombardment of airfields at Miyagi and their AA

                                weapons could have provided additional protection to the three aircraft

                                carriers. (See THE FORGOTTEN FLEET and WAR WITH JAPAN (HMSO).)

                                HELLCAT aircraft approaching to land-on during the KAMIKAZE attack was

                                shot down by close range 20mm Oerlikon (See ALARM STARBOARD by

                                G Brooke).

                5th          Full power restored.

                                Joint flying operations with US carriers and bombardments continued.

                9th          Sustained further damage after hit by KAMIKAZE aircraft during renewed operations

                                in Sakishima Gunto Group. One fatal casualty.

                                (For full details see A FORMIDABLE COMMISSION and above references).

                18th        Fire in hangar after CORSAIR aircraft accidentally fired guns during refuelling.

                                30 aircraft were destroyed or made unusable in this conflagration.

                19th        Resumed air operations on Sakishima Gunto despite shortage of aircraft.

                22nd       Detached before completion of operations and left operational area for passage to

                                Manus escorted by HM Destroyers KEMPENFELT and WHIRLWIND.


June                        On completion of temporary repair at Manus took passage to Sydney

                                Repair and R&R in Sydney.


July                         Redeployed with HM Aircraft Carriers IMPLACABLE and VICTORIOUS as part of US

                                3rd Fleet in Task Force 37.

                                (Note : US Naval Command structure had been changed and British Pacific Fleet

                                was redesignated as Task Force 37).

                                Force 37 comprised:-

                                HM Battleship KING GEORGE V (Flagship of Vice Admiral, British Pacific Fleet.

                                HM Aircraft Carriers FORMIDABLE (Flagship), VICTORIOUS and IMPLACABLE.

                                (Note : HMS IMPLACABLE was delayed by defect from sailing from Manus).

                                HM Cruisers NEWFOUNDLAND (Flagship), BLACK PRINCE, EURYALUS,

                                UGANDA (RCN) and GAMBIA. HM Destroyers GRENVILLE, UNDINE, URANIA,

                                URCHIN, ULYSSES, UNDAUNTED, QUIBERON (RAN), QUICKMATCH (RAN),

                                QUEENBOROUGH (RAN), QUALITY (RAN), TROUBRIDGE, TENACIOUS,

                                TERMAGANT, TERPSICHORE AND TEAZER.

                6th          Sailed with HMS VICTORIOUS and HMS IMPLACABLE for operational area.

                16th        Joined ships of Third Fleet for Joint RN/USN attacks in Tokyo and Yokohama area.

                17th        Carried out first British attacks on Japanese mainland and provided air cover for

                                ships of TF37.

                25th        Combat Air Patrol (CAP) destroyed 3 AICHI torpedo bombers when Task Force 37

                                on passage to refuel. One other was damaged.

                                (Note : HMCS UGANDA withdrew from operations on relief by HM Cruiser ARGONAUT.

                                This was a result of recent Canadian Government regulation about service

                                of Canadian personnel in the Japanese campaign

                                (See CANADIAN MILITARY HISTORY Vol.4 No.2).


August                  Deployed with US Task Group 38 Units for Joint air operations.

                9th          Attacked airfields and shipping in North Honshu and Hokkaido with HMS VICTORIOUS

                                HMS INDEFATIGABLE and HMS IMPLACABLE. Cover was provided by major RN units of

                                TF37.During an attack on Onegawa a CORSAIR piloted by Lieut. Robert Gray, DSC,

                                RCNVR bombed and sank the Japanese frigate AMAKUSA despite extensive cross-fire

                                from other ships. For this feat of bravery which cost him his life was awarded the VC


                10th        Air operations in continuation.

                12th        Returned to Manus with ships of British Pacific Fleet to refuel.

                                (Note : Not transferred to Task Group Unit 38.5 with HMS INDEFATIGABLE.

                                This was due to the enforced withdrawal of TF37 ships because of a shortage of

                                fuel from British tankers - See above references and A FORMIDABLE



P o s t   W a r   N o t e s


HMS FORMIDABLE did not take part in surrender ceremonial in Japan. The ship was deployed to carry repatriated Japanese prisoners of war to Sydney and returning troops from the Far East. During this duty she carried nearly 14,000 passengers and steamed over 100,000 miles. Returning to UK in February 1946 the ship was Paid-off on 26th July that year. In 1947 she was reduced to Reserve without preservation or maintenance for 4 years. The resulting deterioration of the hull prevented the planned modernisation and HMS FORMIDABLE was placed on the Disposal List in 1950. Sold to BISCO for demolition by TW Ward the ship arrived in tow at the breaker's yard in Inverkeithing on 12th May 1953.


(Note :  Detailed information about the war service of this ship can be found in a book dedicated to this subject  - A FORMIDABLE COMMISSION).




Details of escorts for WS Series convoys were provided by Donald Kindell, Ohio USA from unpublished sources.






Convoy Escort Movements of HMS  FORMIDABLE

by Don Kindell


These convoy lists have not been cross-checked with the text above






Date convoy sailed

Joined convoy as escort

Convoy No.

Left convoy

Date convoy arrived








WS 016





RA 054A








(Note on Convoys)



Collision in December 1941

by Mark Horan

(Answering a query from Rebecca Hill , whose grandfather served on sister-ship  HMS Indomitable from 1940-46. We had Indomitable involved in this collision)


HMS Formidable, which had replaced Illustrious in the Mediterranean on 10 March 1941, was herself bombed and badly damaged on 26 May, though she was able to make Alexandria under her own power the next day. She underwent emergency repairs there until late July. On 24 July she sailed for Port Said, passed through the Suez Canal, and followed her sister ship South and West for the USA, arriving in Norfolk on on 25 August. She underwent permanent repairs there until December, underwent five days of trials off Norfolk in early December, and then sailed for the UK in company with HMS Illustrious.

The two were sailing in the Atlantic in extremely rough seas and low visibility on 16 December when Illustrious ran her bow into the stern of Formidable, doing extensive damage to both ships. Formidable arrived at Belfast on 21 December and was under repair until 3 February 1942 before she sailed for trials and then Greenock where she prepared for duty in the Far East, leaving on 17 February to join the Eastern Fleet.


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