HMS Indomitable

HMS Indomitable

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HMS Indomitable

HMS Indomitable was an Invincible class battle cruiser. Second to be laid down, she was actually completed nine months ahead of the Invincible herself. The Indomitable entered service in June 1908. After a transatlantic voyage ferrying the Prince of Wales on a visit to Canada, she joined the Nore Division of the Home Fleet (October 1908). She remained in the Home Fleet until 1913 when she and the Invincible were sent to the Mediterranean as part of the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron.

She was still in the Mediterranean at the outbreak of the First World War. There she took part in the unsuccessful search for the SMS Goeben and Breslau (August 1914), two German ships that were on their way to Turkey. She then took part in the early bombardment of the Turkish forts at the entrances to the Dardanelles (3 November 1914), this time with the Indefatigable.

In December 1914 the Indomitable returned to the Grand Fleet. She remained with the Home Fleet for the rest of the war, taking part in the Battle of Dogger Bank (24 January 1915) and the Battle of Jutland (31 May-1 June 1916). At Dogger Bank she fired 134 of her 12in shells at the German armoured cruiser Blücher (eventually sunk after a shot from HMS Princess Royal started a serious fire). At Jutland she fired 175 12in shells, hitting the battleships Derfllinger, Seydlitz (both scuttled in 1919)and Pommern (later torpedoed and sunk by British destroyers during the battle).

After the Battle of Jutland the Indomitable joined the 2nd Battle Squadron, where she remained until February 1919 when she was placed in the Nore Reserve. In March 1920 she was paid off and in 1922 she was sold.

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



3090 nautical miles at 10kts

Belt Armour


Bulkhead Armour




Turret faces armour


Conning Tower armour


Deck armour





Eight 12in guns in four turrets
Sixteen quick firing 4in guns
Seven Maxim machine guns
Five 18in submerged torpedo tubes, 4 on beam one on stern

Crew complement



16 February 1907


June 1908


Sold 1922

Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War


Indomitable — British Tier VIII aircraft сarrier.

The last ship from the Illustrious-class carriers, which represented a revolutionary breakthrough in the development of aircraft carriers thanks to the introduction of an armored flight deck. In contrast to the lead ship, she had an additional hanger and so could carry more aircraft.

World War II Database

ww2dbase The HMS Indomitable was the fourth Illustrious-class carrier, though she differed from the earlier three carriers of the class after a modification to have a complement of 45 aircraft instead of 33. This was achieved by both decreasing the thickness of hangar walls from 41 to 11 inches and by raising the flight deck by 14 feet. This class of carriers came out of the 1937 Naval Programme.

ww2dbase Upon commission, HMS Indomitable was assigned to join the venerable HMS Repulse and the battleship HMS Prince of Wales to defend Singapore, however a Nov 1941 accident off Jamaica (she ran aground) forced her to turn north to Virginia, United States, for repairs. This unfortunate event was regarded by most as the single most fortunate event for the ship - had she been able to reach Singapore as scheduled, she would had provided some air defense against the invading Japanese when they attacked the British fleet off Kuantan, British Malaya, but most agree that she would had been destroyed along with her would-be fleet mates. In Jan 1942, she joined the British Eastern Fleet at Ceylon. Between Jan and Feb, she ferried Hurricane fighters between Ceylon, Java, and Singapore. On 24 Mar, she rejoined the Eastern Fleet. In May 1942, Indomitable and her class mate Illustrious attacked the French port of Diego Suarez at Madagascar, in support of a large British landing operation. The goal of the operation was to prevent Japanese usage of the port as a remote submarine base. She returned to Europe briefly, serving in the Mediterranean in the summer of 1942, participating in Operation Pedestal. During Operation Pedestal, where she was part of the escort force of the largest convoy, her flight deck would be heavily damaged by a 1100lb bomb. She was sent to the US for repairs. On 16 Jul 1943, while supporting the Sicily, Italy operations, she was torpedoed either by a SM.79 bomber (crewed by Captain Carlo Capelli and Lieutenant Ennio Caselli) of 204a Squadriglia of the Italian 41st Torpedo Bomber Group or a German Ju 88 bomber. She was again sent to the United States for repairs. She would not return to service until Feb 1944.

ww2dbase HMS Indomitable returned to the British Eastern Fleet in Jun 1944, participating in attacks on Sumatra (29 Aug and 18 Sep 1944), Nicobar Islands (17 and 19 Oct 1944), and Sumatra (again, on 20 Dec 1944). She would be reassigned to the British Pacific Fleet, and attacked Medan (4 Jan 1945) and Palembang Sumatra (24 and 29 Jan 1945). After some time in port, she would return to active duties and participated in attacks on Sakishima Gunto and Taiwan in March-April 1945. On 4 May she was hit by kamikaze, but no extensive damage was observed. She returned to Sydney for refitting in Jun 1945 before assisting in the liberation of Hong Kong in August and September 1945.

ww2dbase The Indomitable returned to England in Nov 1945, and was placed in reserve in 1947. She was commissioned again between 1950 to 1953. She was scrapped in October 1955.

ww2dbase Sources:
Fleet Air Arm Archive

Last Major Revision: Mar 2005

Aircraft Carrier Indomitable Interactive Map

Indomitable Operational Timeline

10 Oct 1941 Indomitable was commissioned into service.
31 Dec 1941 HMS Indomitable arrived at Cape Town, South Africa en route to the Far East.
2 Jan 1942 HMS Indomitable departed Cape Town, South Africa with Sea Hurricane aircraft aboard.
9 Jan 1942 HMS Indomitable was joined by Australian destroyers Nestor, Nizan, and Napier off Cape Guardafui in eastern Africa.
17 Jan 1942 HMS Indomitable departed Port Sudan in British East Africa with 48 RAF Hurricane fighters for Singapore in Operation Opposition.
21 Jan 1942 HMS Indomitable refueled at Addu Atoll, Maldive Islands and departed for Java.
24 Jan 1942 HMS Indomitable refueled near the Cocos Islands in the eastern Indian Ocean.
27 Jan 1942 100 miles off Java, HMS Indomitable launched the 48 RAF Hurricane fighters that she was transporting. These fighters would fly to Java and Dutch Borneo they were intended to ultimately reach Singapore to bolster defenses there.
2 Feb 1942 HMS Indomitable, with her escorting Australian destroyers Nizam, Nestor, and Napier, arrived at Trincomalee, Ceylon.
16 Feb 1942 HMS Indomitable departed Trincomalee, Ceylon for Aden, escorted by Australian destroyers Napier and Nestor.
22 Feb 1942 HMS Indomitable and escorting Australian destroyers Napier and Nestor arrived at Aden.
25 Feb 1942 HMS Indomitable arrived at Port Sudan in British East Africa and received Hurricane fighters and personnel of No. 30 and No. 261 Squadrons.
27 Feb 1942 HMS Indomitable departed Port Sudan, British East Africa, escorted by Australian destroyers Napier and Nestor.
6 Mar 1942 HMS Indomitable launched the Hurricane fighters of No. 30 Squadron for Colombo, Ceylon.
7 Mar 1942 HMS Indomitable launched the Hurricane fighters of No. 261 Squadron for Colombo, Ceylon, then sailed for Aden.
24 Mar 1942 HMS Indomitable joined the British Eastern Fleet.
8 May 1942 French submarine Monge attacked British carrier HMS Indomitable off Diego-Suárez, Madagascar at 0756 hours all torpedoes missed. British destroyers HMS Active and HMS Panther counterattacked and sank Monge.
12 Aug 1942 British carrier HMS Indomitable was disabled south of Sardinia, Italy.
16 Jul 1943 While supporting the Sicily, Italy operations, HMS Indomitable was torpedoed either by a SM.79 bomber (crewed by Captain Carlo Capelli and Lieutenant Ennio Caselli) of 204a Squadriglia of the Italian 41st Torpedo Bomber Group or a German Ju 88 bomber. The British carrier would be sent to the United States for repairs.
14 Sep 1944 HMS Cumberland provided cover with HMS Howe and Eastern Fleet cruisers during air operations by HM Aircraft Carriers Victorious and Indomitable carriers on Sigli, Northern Sumatra (Operation Light).
29 Jan 1945 Aircraft from HMS Indomitable struck Palembang, Sumatra, Dutch East Indies.
30 Aug 1945 A British battle squadron led by the aircraft carrier Indomitable entered Hong Kong to reoccupy the Crown Colony.
1 May 1953 Indomitable was decommissioned from service.

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HMS Indomitable (92)

After commissioning HMS Indomitable sailed to the West Indies for work-up. Had it not been for her grounding in Jamaica while working up in November 1941, Indomitable might well have been sunk the following month, as she was originally intended to join the battleship HMS Prince of wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse at Singapore, both those ships were sunk in December 1941.

In January 1942, she joined the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon and ferried RAF Hurricanes to Java at the end of that month. She took part in Diego Suarez operation with HMS Illustrious in May 1942, and exercised with the RAF off Ceylon in June 1942. In May 1942, HMS Indomitable sailed to Madagascar to attempt to seize a French Navy base at Diego Suarez in order to prevent the Japanese from using it as a submarine base.

Indomitable took part in Operation "Pedestal" - the Malta convoy on 3 August 1942. Indomitable had her flight-deck armour pierced by an 1100lb bomb, in the Mediterranean in August 1942 when enemy bombers scored 2 hits and 3 near-misses that and another hit aft where there was no armour put her out of action being repaired in the USA until February 1943. Indomitable sailed to the Mediterranean in February 1943, and was torpedoed on 16 July by an Italian S79 aircraft(pilot Caselli) while covering the Sicily landings. She underwent repairs in USA from July 1943-February 1944.

She then joined the Eastern in June 1944 for air strikes against targets on Sumatra with HMS Victorious on 29 August and 18 September, 1944. This was followed by air strikes against the Nicobar Islands with HMS Victorious on 17 and 19 October. She was involved in an unsuccessful attack on Medan, Sumatra, with HMS Illustrious on 20 December 1944. On 4 January 1945, she took part in a successful air strike against Medan, with HMS Indefatigable and HMS Victorious, and then immediately afterwards was involved in further strikes against refineries in Palembang, Sumatra on 24 and 29 January 1945.

Indomitable was in Sydney to join the British Pacific Fleet in February 1945, returning to active duties with air strikes against Sakishima Gunto and Formosa in March-April 1945. On 4 May she was hit by a Kamikaze - but received no damage -the Kamikaze aircraft simply slid up the armoured flight deck and over the side. She later arrived back at Sydney for a refit in June 1945. She again departed from Sydney in mid-August for the re-occupation of Hong Kong, her aircraft flying their last combat missions on 31 August and 1 September against Japanese suicide boats at Hong Kong.

She finally returned to the UK in November 1945 with British personnel from Australia having ditched all her aircraft overboard off Sydney Post war Indomitable was involved in two more repatriation voyages in 1946, she then was put in reserve and undertook a refit between 1947-50. She again was active in the Home Fleet between 1950-53, but reduced to reserve on the Clyde on 5 October 1953. She was sold for scrapping in October 1955.

Commands listed for HMS Indomitable (92)

Please note that we're still working on this section.

1Capt. Harold Edward Morse, DSO, RN4 Jul 194125 Feb 1942
2Capt. Thomas Hope Troubridge, RN25 Feb 19429 Sep 1942
3Cdr. Patrick William Wootten Wootten, RN9 Sep 194215 Dec 1942
4Capt. Guy Grantham, DSO, RN15 Dec 1942Aug 1943
5A/Capt. Patrick William Wootten Wootten, RNAug 1943late 1943
6A/Capt. Ughtred Henry Ramsden James, RNlate 19432 Nov 1943
7Capt. John Arthur Symons Eccles, RN2 Nov 194324 Jan 1944
8Cdr. Eric Roland John Oddie, DSO, RN24 Jan 194430 Jan 1944
9Capt. John Arthur Symons Eccles, RN30 Jan 194428 Dec 1945

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Notable events involving Indomitable include:

10 Mar 1942
The aircraft carrier, HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), escorted by the destroyers, HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN), departed Trincomalee around 0700 hours for Aden. ( 1 )

16 Mar 1942
HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) arrived at Aden. ( 1 )

19 Mar 1942
HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) departed Aden for Addu Atoll. ( 2 )

24 Mar 1942
HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) arrived at Addu Atoll. ( 2 )

26 Mar 1942
HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN , flying the flag of A/Vice-Admiral A.U. Willis, DSO, RN, second in command Eastern Fleet), HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) and their destroyer escort made up of HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN) departed Addu Attoll for exercises in that area.

They were joined at sea the next day by HMS Revenge (Capt. L.V. Morgan, CBE, MVO, DSC, RN) coming from Mauritius. ( 3 )

28 Mar 1942
HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN, flying the flag of A/Vice-Admiral A.U. Willis, DSO, RN, second in command Eastern Fleet), HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Revenge (Capt. L.V. Morgan, CBE, MVO, DSC, RN), HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) and their destroyer escort made up of HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN) returned to Addu Attoll upon completion of their exercises in that area. ( 3 )

29 Mar 1942

Operations by the Eastern Fleet from 29 March to 13 April 1942. Enemy air attacks on Colombo and later Trincomalee and the loss of HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall on 5 April 1942 and HMS Hermes, HMAS Vampire on 9 April 1942.

Dispositions of the Eastern Fleet on 29 March 1942.

On 29 March 1942 the disposition of the Eastern Fleet was as follows At Colombo: Aircraft Carrier HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire (Capt. A.W.S. Agar, VC, DSO, RN) (refitting) and HMS Cornwall (Capt. P.C.W. Manwaring, RN), light cruisers HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN), HMS Dragon (Capt. R.J. Shaw, MBE, RN) and HMS Caledon (A/Capt. H.J. Haynes, DSO, DSC, RN), the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMS Hotspur (Lt. T.D. Herrick, DSC, RN), HMS Arrow (Cdr. A.M. McKillop, RN) and HMS Express (Lt.Cdr. F.J. Cartwright, RN).

At Trincomalee: The flagship of the Eastern Fleet, the battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes (Capt. R.F.J. Onslow, DSC, MVO, RN), light cruisers HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN) and HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN), the destroyer HMAS Vampire (Cdr. W.T.A. Moran, RAN). HMS Warspite departed Trincomalee this day and arrived at Colombo in the evening.

At Addu Atoll The battleships HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN , flying the flag of A/Vice-Admiral A.U. Willis, DSO, RN, second in command Eastern Fleet), HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Revenge (Capt. L.V. Morgan, CBE, MVO, DSC, RN) the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN) and the destroyers HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN).

The Japanese had been operating in the Indian Ocean in early March and more attacks were expected in this area by the Allies. The most likely target would be the island of Ceylon and the harbours of Colombo and Trincomalee.

30 and 31 March 1942.

Admiral Somerville therefore planned to concentrate the Eastern Fleet on the late afternoon / early evening of 31 March 1942 in position 04°40’N, 81°00’E. The fleet would then be divided in two groups Force A (the fast division) was made up of the flagships, battleship HMS Warspite, both fleet carriers, HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable. They were escorted by the cruisers HMS Cornwall, HMS Enterprise, HMS Emerald and six destroyers HMAS Napier, HMAS Nestor, HMS Paladin, HMS Panther, HMS Hotspur and HMS Foxhound. This force would try to intercept the enemy and deliver a night air attack on the enemy with their carriers as the main target.

Force A would be covered by the slower Force B which was made up of the battleships HMS Resolution, HMS Ramillies, HMS Royal Sovereign and the light carrier HMS Hermes. Escort to these ships was proviced by the cruisers HMS Dragon, HMS Caledon, HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck and a total of eight destroyers HMS Griffin, HMS Decoy, HMAS Norman, HMS Fortune, HrMs Isaac Sweers, HMS Arrow and one of the old destroyers that had managed to escape from the China station also joined, this was HMS Scout (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) H. Lambton, RN). They were to remain about 20 nautical miles to the west of Force A. If Force A encountered a superior enemy force the would withdraw towards Force B.

At 1400/30 the ships mentioned earlier at the top of this article departed Colombo. HMS Hotspur and HMAS Nestor carried out an A/S sweep of the searched channel before Force A sailed.

By 1600/31 the fleet had made the pre-arranged rendez-vous and formed up. It then proceeded northwards. After dark, to avoid detection from the air by the enemy, Force A altered course to 080° and proceeded at 15 knots until about 0230 hours when it was thought they would be in the estimated position from where the enemy would fly off their aircraft for the expected attack on Ceylon. If nothing was sighted or located by 0230/1, Force A was to turn back to the south-west and to withdraw outside the enemy’s air search area. Force B was to act as a supporting force for Force A, keeping 20 miles to the west of it and confirming to the movements of Force A through the night. This procedure was carried out as planned during the night of 31 March / 1 April but nothing was seen or located.

In the late afternoon / early evening of 31 March HMS Indomitable briefly separated from the fleet for flying operations during which she was escorted by HMS Emerald. From 2100/31 to 0600/1 a search was carried out, to a depth of 120 miles from 050° to 110°, by three A.S.V. fitted Albacores from HMS Formidable. Also two Albacores fitted with long-range tanks were kept standing by for shadowing purposes if required. One of the Albacores crash landed on HMS Formidable upon return at 0340/1.

1 April 1942.

At 0940 hours HMS Decoy reported the breakdown of her main feed pumps. She was detached to Colombo to effect repairs.

Around noon several of the destroyers reported submerged contacts. HMS Scout reported sighting a periscope. The fleet took avoiding action in each case, but nothing further transpired from these contact which are now considered to be non-sub.

At 1400 hours, HMS Scout, one of the oldest destroyers of the Royal Navy with a short enducance, was detached to oil at sea from RFA Appleleaf (5892 GRT, built 1917, Master E. Mills) in position 04°00’N, 80°00’E. Upon completion of oiling HMS Scout was to proceed to position 05°40’N, 81°08’E by 0800/2. RFA Appleleaf and her escort, HMS Shoreham (Cdr. E. Hewitt, RD, RNR), were to proceed towards a new waiting position 05°00’N, 80°30’E.

In the afternoon, around 1420 hours, HMS Dorsetshire joined Force A. This cruiser had been refitting at Colombo but this refit was cut short to enable her to take part in this operation. Air searches were carried out from Ceylon as the days before but they sighted nothing of the enemy. Also from 1430/1800 hours a search was carried out by aircraft from HMS Indomitable between 142° to 207° to a depth of 215 miles. Admiral Somerville decided to carry out the same sweep to the north-east as had been done the previous night. Again nothing was seen and Force A made rendez-vous with Force B at daybreak on 2 April 1942.

2 April 1942.

At 0800 hours the destroyers HMS Fortune and HMAS Vampire were detached to fuel from RFA Appleleaf in position 05°00’N, 80°30’E. and an Albacore was ordered to search for HMS Scout and order her to rejoin the fleet. Shortly after noon the fleet sighted RFA Appleleaf, HMS Shoreham, HMS Fortune and HMAS Vampire. The last two ships then rejoined the fleet while the tanker and it’s escort were ordered to proceed towards Colombo at 1200/3.

During the day the Eastern Fleet cruised in an area about 50 miles further to the west then the previous day to avoid being detected by enemy submarines that had been reported. Throughout the day several of the escorting destroyers obtained unconfirmed echoes. Two more destroyers fuelled during the afternoon, HMAS Napier and HMS Arrow took in fuel from HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall.

As the enemy had not shown herself by 2100 hours, Admiral Somerville decided to proceed to Addu Atoll to fuel and to take on fresh water as the R-class battleships were running out of this as they had been unable to top up at Addu Atoll before they sailed.

3 April 1942.

At 0520 hours, the destroyer HMS Fortune was detached to search for survivors from the merchant vessel Glensheil (9415 GRT, built 1924) that had been torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-7 in position 00°48’S, 78°35’E at 0230 hours. HMS Fortune picked up 88 survivors and then proceeded to Addu Atoll where she arrived at 1130/4.

As at this time Admiral Somerville felt confident that something must have held up the Japanese or that their intentions were incorrectly appreciated. At 0940 hours, he sent HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall to Colombo. The former to continue her refit and the latter to act as escort for the Australian troop convoy SU 4. HMS Hermes and the destroyer HMAS Vampire were also detached but to Trincomalee as HMS Hermes was to prepare for the upcoming operation ‘Ironclad’, the attack on Madagascar.

Late in the morning three of the destroyers of the screen oiled from the battleships HMAS Norman from HMS Warspite, HMS Griffin from HMS Revenge and HMS Foxhound from HMS Royal Sovereign.

At 1820 hours Force A proceeded ahead to Addu Atoll at 19 knots followed by Force B at 15 knots. Force A arrived at Addu Atoll at 1200/4. Force B at 1500/4.

4 April 1942.

In the early morning hours, and while approaching Addu Atoll, a simulated air strike was carried out on Force B by aircraft from HMS Indomitable and HMS Formidable. One aircraft crashed into the sea, it’s crew was picked up by the Dutch AA-cruiser Jacob van Heemskerck. A second simulated air attack was made on Force A later in the morning.

At 1630 hours, Admiral Somerville received a report that a large enemy force was in position 00°40’N, 83°10’E at 1605/F. Enemy course was 315°. Shortly afterwards this report was confirmed by another report in which they gave an enemy course of 330°. This positioned the enemy in a position 155° from Dondra Head, 360 miles, the distance from Addu Atoll being 085°, 600 miles. There was no indication about the composition of this force.

The condition of the Eastern Fleet at Addu Atoll at that time was as follows Owning to the limited number of oilers available, the vessels comprising Force A had taken about half their fuel and Force B had not yet commenced fuelling. In addition the ‘R’-class battleships were very short of water which had to be taken in before they could sail. This meant that Force A could sail immediately, minus HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise. These cruisers could sail shortly after midnight. Force B could not leave until 0700 hours the following morning at the earliest.

It appeared that the enemy’s probable plan was as follows. All the evidence supported Admiral Somerville’s original appreciation that the enemy would attack Colombo (and possibly Trincomalee) with carrier borne aircraft either before dawn or shortly afterwards and would return to the carriers in a position about 150 miles south-east of Ceylon. On completion the whole force would then withdraw to the east. The enemy’s reported position made it apparent that this attack was to be made on the morning of 5 April 1942.

Admiral Somerville considered his possible courses of action were as follows: 1) Force A, less HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise to proceed immediately at best speed to the area to the south of Ceylon and to be joined there by HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall coming from Colombo and attack any enemy force located. 2) Delay the sailing of Force A until HMS Emerald and HMS Enterprise, valuable units with their strong torpedo armament, had completed refuelling and sail about midnight. Force B could sail in the morning of the 5th and follow astern to act as a supporting force. 3) Delay the sailing of Force A until both force could leave together on the morning of the 5th. 4) Force A and Force B would remain at Addu Atoll and leave the RAF to deal with the enemy attack.

The choise Admiral Somerville made was governed by the following considerations: 1) First and foremost the total defence of the Indian Ocean and it’s vital lines of communication depend on the existence of the Eastern Fleet. The longer this fleet remained ‘in being’ the longer it would limit and check the enemy’s advances against Ceylon and further west. This major policy of retaining ‘a fleet in being’, already approved by Their Lordships, was, in Admiral Somerville’s opinion, paramount. 2) The only hope of dealing the enemy an affective blow was by means of a carrier borne air striking force preferably at night. To operate both carriers escorted by HMS Warspite out of supporting distance of the ‘R’-class battleships would offer the enemy an opportunity to cripple our only offensive weapon. Admiral Somerville considered it a cardinal point in any operation the Force A should not proceed out of the supporting distance from Force B unless it could be presumed that that enemy capital ships would not be encountered. 3) No matter what course of action Admiral Somerville would take the enemy force could not be intercepted either before or during the attack on Ceylon on the morning of the 5th. The only hope was that the air striking force from Ceylon might inflict damage to the enemy so that the Eastern Fleet could ‘finish them off’, or that the enemy attack on Ceylon would be delayed 24 hours.

Admiral Somerville therefore decided to adopt ‘plan 2’. So he sailed Force A including both E-class cruisers at midnight and ordered Force B to proceed as early as possible the following morning.

Admiral Somerville therefore instructed HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall to sail from Colombo and to make rendez-vous with Force A at 1600/5 in position 00°58’N, 77°36’E. The position of this rendez-vous was based on their expected time of departure from Colombo and estimated as being the earliest possible time at which they could cross the track of Force A, taking into consideration that HMS Dorsetshire had resumed her refit and was at extended notice. Admiral Somerville considered that the course to be steered should take them well clear of any enemy forces operating in the vicinity. Actually these instructions had been anticipated by the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet and these two cruisers, at his discretion, sailed at 2300/4 for Addu Atoll. On receipt of the signal from Admiral Somerville the Deputy Commander-in-Chief amended his instructions accordingly at 0409/5.

5 April 1942.

Force A sailed from Addu Atoll at 0015 hours and proceeded 070° at 18 knots towards a position which would bring it 250 miles south of Ceylon by dawn on the 6th. Shortly before departure the destroyer HMS Hotspur conducted an A/S search of the entrance to Addu Atoll.

During the night Admiral Somerville received reports from the Catalina reconnaissance aircraft on patrol from Ceylon of an enemy destroyer in position 01°59’N, 82°20’E, course 315°, speed 20 knots six enemy destroyers in position 02°54’N, 82°10’E, course 325°, speed 21 knots and at 0701 hours a report of one battleship, two cruisers an four other ships in position 195°, Dondra Head, 110 miles. Later this message was subsequently amplified to the effect that the vessels previously reported were definitely hostile and consisted of two battleships, two cruisers and destroyers.

At about 0825 hours an air raid on shipping and harbour facilities at Colombo was commenced in which some 75 aircraft were taking part. These were later reported to be mainly Navy ‘O’ fighters, armed with one bomb each. This enemy force withdrew from Colombo before 0900 hours and was seen by several merchant ships to the south-west of Ceylon probably returning to the carriers. In several cases these merchant were machine gunned.

From 0645 hours an air A/S patrol was maintained ahead of the fleet. HMS Indomitable also sent four Fulmars to commence a search to the eastward. This search covered the area between the arcs 055° to 105° to a depth of 215 miles. It proved negative except for the sighting of an enemy seaplane at 0855 hours, 076°, 150 miles from Force A. This suggested that the enemy was carrying out reconnaissance in a south-westerly direction by means of cruiser aircraft, or a seaplane carrier, in a position 70 miles of the main enemy force. There was no indication that this aircraft sighted any of our surface forces or our air search.

Between 0702 and 1145 hours, Admiral Somerville received reports of battleships in approximate positions 03°55’N, 80°40’E, steering 290° at 0648 hours, steering 120° at 0730 hours, and at 1004 hours in position 04°00’N, 80°25’E steering 282°. This suggested that the battleships were making time while the carriers recovered their aircraft. The estimated position of HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall at this time was 150 miles from the enemy and opening.

At 1327 hours a mutilated ‘Shad’ signal was received from what was thought to be Colombo but was identified half an hour later as coming from HMS Dorsetshire whose position was estimated as being 037°, 90 miles from Force A at 1400 hours. No contact could be established.

At 1344 hours an enemy air formation was detected by RD/F, 030°, 84 miles from Force A. This had faded after five minutes and it later it became clear that this was the enemy attacking the Dorsetshire and Cornwall. At 1552 hours, a reconnaissance aircraft from Force A, reported wreckage in position 02°08’N, 78°08’E.

The destroyer HMS Panther was then detached to search but was recalled about one hour later when a reconnaissance aircraft from Force A reported a force of 5 ‘unknown’ ships in position 03°38’N, 78°18’E at 100 hours. There was no indication of the course or speed of the enemy but it could be either a force previously unreported or the force previously and last reported 1004 hours.

No relief shadowers were however sent off by the Rear-Admiral aircraft carriers as soon s the report was received and Admiral Somerville omitted to obtain confirmation that this had been done. At 1700 hours, Admiral Somerville, received a report from Ceylon that there were indications of enemy aircraft carriers steering 230° at 24 knots from an unknown position at 1400 hours. This was thought to be subsequent to the attack on our 8” cruisers and Admiral Somerville’s deductions from this enemy moves were as follows. If the enemy held on this course they would at 0400 be in a position to deliver a night attack on Addu Atoll. This seemed quite a possible course of action. In any case it was necessary for Force A to keep clear to the southward and for Force B (estimated to be 135 miles astern of Force A) to steer to the southward so that Force A and B could close for supporting action at daylight the following morning (April 6th). It was also necessary for Force B to steer to the southward to keep clear of the enemy carrier force should it be proceeding to attack Addu Atoll.

At 1726 hours, therefore, Force A altered course to 210° at 18 knots and a signal was made to Vice-Admiral second-in-Command and to HMS Dorsetshire to steer south, although at this time Admiral Somerville feared about the fate of the two heavy cruisers. As he had received no signal from them that they had been attacked he thought it possible they had escaped and maintained W/T silence.

At 1800 hours Admiral Somerville received a signal from the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, stating that a reconnaissance aircraft reported the estimated enemy position as 020°, 120 miles at 1710 hours. This position was very close to the previous position reported at 1600 hours. The course of the enemy had not been given in either of these reports but the positions fitted in well with the course received earlier (230°).

At 1817 hours, a further signal was received from the Rear-Admiral Aircraft Carriers, adjusting the 1600 hours position of the enemy’s force, amplifying it to include two carriers and three unknown vessels and giving the course north-west. This was the first indication Admiral Somerville had of the enemy now proceeding to the north-west. He immediately ordered force A to alter course to 315° and instructed the Vice-Admiral, second-in-Command to conform. These movements had to object of keeping Force A within night air striking distance of the enemy force, trusting to an A.S.V. (airborne surface vessel radar) search to locate the enemy and to bring Force B within supporting distance should it be necessary to retire in that direction. A dawn rendez-vous was arranged with Force B in approximate position 03°00’N, 75°00’E.

As no news had been received of HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall it was assumed they had been sunk.

At 1930 hours a night search with A.S.V. aircraft was commenced to cover the sector 345° to 030° to a depth of 180 nautical miles. Northing was located on this search.

6 April 1942.

From 2100/5 to 0600/6 further A.S.V. searches were carried out to cover the sector 020° to 080° to a depth of 200 miles. These searches also failed to make any contact with the enemy but reported that Force B was 220°, 25 miles from Force A at 0400 hours.

At 0615 hours, Force A altered course to 135° and sighted Force B ten minutes later. By 0720 hours the Fleet was formed up and course was altered to 090°.

Whilst no furher information had been received regarding the enemy’s movements nothing had occurred to diminish the possibility of the enemy’s being in the vicinity of Addu Atoll, either to attack it by air this morning or to await the return of the Eastern Fleet.

Admiral Somerville intended to keep clear of the superior enemy forces by day. It was still his intention to get into a position to attack them with a night air striking force on their possible return from at Addu Atoll area, and also rescue the possible survivors from HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall. He therefore steered east and at 1115 hours course was altered to south-east in the direction of the wreckage that had been reported the previous evening. During the morning reports came in from merchant ships being attacked in the Bay of Bengal. There must be a second Japanese force operating there.

At 1300 hours HMS Enterprise, HMS Paladin and HMS Panther were detached to search for survivors in the vicinity of the wreckage position. Air search was provided to assist and fighter escort was sent to cover the operation. These ships were successful in picking up a total of 1122 survivors from both heavy cruisers. They rejoined the fleet at noon the following day. At 1800/6, when about 50 miles from the wreckage position course was reversed and the fleet retired to the north-west. All-round air searches were carried out to a depth of 200 miles but again nothing was seen.

At about 1400 hours a signal was received from the C-in-C, Ceylon estimating that a strong Japanese force was still somewhere between Addu Atoll and Colombo. Admiral Somerville therefore decided to keep clear of the Addu area until daylight on the 7th.

7 April 1942.

At 0200 hours the Eastern Fleet altered course to the west, 270°.

At 0427 hours, an A.S.V. aircraft located two submarines in position 02°08’N, 75°16’E and 02°46’N, 75°10’E, to the southward of the course of the Eastern Fleet. This indicated that the possibility of an enemy submarine patrol having been established to cover the eastern approaches to Addu Atoll. Admiral Somerville therefore decided to pass through Veimandu Channel to the west of the Maldives and make an unexpected approach to Addu Atoll from the west. At 0700 hours the course of the fleet was altered to 210°.

At 1335 hours, HMS Fortune was detached to investigate a ship contact made by HMS Emerald but no ship was sighted. Fortune only rejoined the fleet at about 0600/8.

At 1600 hours, HMS Enterprise, HMS Paladin and HMS Panther rejoined with the survivors they had picked up and medical stores were transferred from HMS Warspite to HMS Paladin for treatment of the wounded. Enterprise and Paladin were then detached to proceed immediately to Addu Atoll.

At 2100 hours, the Eastern Fleet altered course to 160°.

8 April 1942.

At 0700 hours aircraft were flown off from the carriers to carry out an all-round search to a depth of 175 miles. Again nothing was seen and at 1100 hours the Eastern Fleet entered Addu Atoll. Refuelling commenced immediately, Force B being refuelled first.

Admiral Somerville held a conference on board HMS Warspite with Flag and Commanding Officers in the afternoon.

Having discussed the situation Admiral Somerville decided to sent Force B to Kilindini and to proceed to Bombay with Force A. This later decision coincided with Their Lordships views as later in the day he received Their Lordships instructions that Force A was not to be sent to Colombo for the time being. Further by proceeding to Bombay the could arrange a meeting with the Commander-in-Chief, India and discuss the situation in the Far East with him.

At 1800 hours HMAS Nestor departed Addu Atoll to maintain an A/S patrol in the sector between 090° to 150° to a depth of 35 miles from the Port War Signal Station. One hour earlier HMS Resolution launched her Walrus aircraft for a ‘round the island’ A/S patrol. It returned at dusk.

9 April 1942.

Force B sailed for Kilindini at 0200 hours where it was due to arrive on April 15th. Force A sailed at 0600 hours for Bombay shaping course to pass to the westward of the Maldives.

During the morning Admiral Somerville was informed of further Japanese attacks in the Bay of Bengal and on Trincomalee and the sinking of several ships, including HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire but nothing could be done about this.

10 April 1942.

At 1000 hours HMS Panther closed HMS Warspite to transfer Staff Officers for passage to Colombo where they were to inform the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, Eastern Fleet of Admiral Somerville’s views and make preliminary arrangements to transfer Admiral Somerville’s administrative staff and secretariat to Kilindini.

13 April 1942.

At 0705 hours, HMS Paladin rejoined Force A bringing back the Staff Officers who had been transferred to her on 10 April and also Rear-Admiral Danckwerts, Admiral Somerville’s Chief of Staff ashore. Force A arrived at Bombay later that morning (1040 hours) and commenced oiling.

Japanese operation in the Indian Ocean in late March 1942 and April 1942.

On 26 March 1943 the 1st Japanese Carrier Fleet departed Staring Bay, Celebes, Netherlands East Indies for a raid on Ceylon. This Fleet was made up of the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu, Soryu, Zuikaku, Shokaku, battlecruisers Kongo, Haruna, Hiei, Kirishima, heavy cruisers Tone, Chikuma and the destroyers Urakaze, Tanikaze, Isokaze, Hamakaze, Kasumi, Arare, Kagero, Shiranuhi and Akigumo. This force then proceeded west of Timor and to a position to the south of Java where they fuelled from oilers on April 1st.

On 27 March the Japanese submarines I-2, I-3, I-4, I-5, I-6 and I-7 departed Penang to take up positions in the Indian Ocean for the upcoming operation.

On 1 April the Japanese Mayala Force departed Mergui for operations in the Bay of Bengal. This force was made up of the heavy cruisers Chokai, Kumano, Mikuma, Mogami, Suzuya, aircraft carrier Ryujo, light cruiser Yura, and the destroyers Fubuki, Shirayuki, Hatsuyuki and Murakumo. On 4 April the estroyers were substituted for four other destroyers Amagiri, Asagiri, Shirakumo and Yugiri.

On 5 April the Japanse 1st Carrier Fleet launched their air attack on Colombo. 53 bombers, 38 dive bombers and 36 fighters were launched. They destroyed 19 Hurricane fighters, 1 Fulmar fighter and 6 Swordfish torpedo bombers. At Colombo the harbour facilities were heavily damaged and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Hector and destroyer HMS Tenedos were sunk.

Then around noon a reconnaissance aircraft from the Tone sighted the heavy cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall. The 1st Carrier Fleet immediately launched an attack force of 53 dive bombers that sank both cruisers with the loss of 424 members of their crews (Dorsetshire 234 and Cornwall 190). The Japanese then retired to the south-east.

In the evening of 5 April the Japanese Malaya-Force was ordered to commence attacking Allied shipping along the Indian east coast. On 6 April the northern group (Kumano, Suzuya and Shirakumo destroyed 9 ships off Puri (Orissa). The central group (Chokai, Yura, Asagiri and Yugiri) sank 4 ships. The southern group (Mikuma, Mogami and Amagiri sank 3 ships and damaged 2 more. Meanwhile aircraft from the carrier Ryuju, which operated with the central group, sank 4 more ships and damaged 1 more. In all about 92000 GRT of shipping was sunk.

On 8 April 1942 a Catalina aircraft spotted the Japanese 1st Carrier Fleet proceeding for an attack on Trincomalee but the Eastern Fleet was approaching Addu Atoll to refuel and could do nothing. Shipping at Trincomalee was ordered to leave port and proceed to the southward. In the morning of the following day 91 Japanese bombers and 41 fighters attacked Trincomalee. They destoyed 9 Hurricane and Fulmar fighters and 14 aircraft on the ground. The harbour most mostly empty but they sank a merchant vessel and 4 aircraft it had on board and not unloaded yet. Also the British monitor HMS Erebus (Capt. H.F. Nalder, RN) was damged. The Japanese 1st Carrier Fleet was then attacked by 9 Blenheim bombers but they inflicted no damage for 5 of their own lost to Japanese fighter cover. Then Japanese reconnaissance aircraft from the Haruna sighted ships escaping southwards. 85 Dive bombers and 3 fighters were then launched which sank HMS Hermes and HMAS Vampire as well as the corvette HMS Hollyhock (Lt.Cdr. T.E. Davies, OBE, RNR), two tankers and a merchant ship.

By mid-April 1942 all Japanese forces had returned to their bases. ( 4 )

29 Mar 1942
HMS Resolution (Capt. A.R. Halfhide, CBE, RN , flying the flag of A/Vice-Admiral A.U. Willis, DSO, RN, second in command Eastern Fleet), HMS Royal Sovereign (Capt. R.H. Portal, DSC, RN), HMS Ramillies (Capt. D.N.C. Tufnell, DSC, RN), HMS Revenge (Capt. L.V. Morgan, CBE, MVO, DSC, RN), HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN) and their destroyer escort made up of HMAS Napier (Capt. S.H.T. Arliss, DSO, RN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMAS Nizam (Lt.Cdr. M.J. Clark, DSC, RAN), HMS Griffin (Capt. H.St.L. Nicolson, DSO, RN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN), HMS Fortune (Lt.Cdr. R.D.H.S. Pankhurst, RN), HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HrMs Isaac Sweers (Cdr. W. Harmsen, RNN) departed Addu Atoll for more exercises in that erea.

[For the events following this, see the event titled 'Operations by the Eastern Fleet from 29 March to 13 April 1942' for 29 March 1942.] ( 3 )

20 Apr 1942
Shortly after midnight 'Force A' of the Eastern Fleet departed Bombay for Colombo. 'Force A' was now made up of the battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN) and the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN). ( 3 )

23 Apr 1942
HMS Warspite (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN), HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN) and HMS Scout (Lt.Cdr.(Retd.) H. Lambton, RN) arrived at Colombo. This last destroyer had joined the previous day coming from Cochin. ( 3 )

24 Apr 1942
Force A, made up of battleship HMS Warspite (Capt. F.E.P. Hutton, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral J.F. Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO, RN), aircraft carriers HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN, flying the flag of Rear-Admiral D.W. Boyd, CBE, DSC, RN), HMS Formidable (Capt. A.W.LaT. Bisset, RN), light cruisers HMS Newcastle (Capt. P.B.R.W. William-Powlett, DSO, RN), HMS Emerald (Capt. F.C. Flynn, RN), HMS Enterprise (Capt. J.C.A. Annesley, DSO, RN), AA cruiser HrMs Jacob van Heemskerck (Cdr. E.J. van Holte, RNN) and the destroyers HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.D. Pugsley, RN), HMS Panther (Lt.Cdr. R.W. Jocelyn, RN), HMAS Nestor (Cdr. A.S. Rosenthal, DSO and Bar, RAN), HMAS Norman (Cdr. H.M. Burrell, RAN), HMS Foxhound (Cdr. G.H. Peters, DSC, RN) and HMS Decoy (Lt.Cdr. G.I.M. Balfour, RN). The armed merchant cruiser HMS Alaunia (Capt.(Retd.) E.N. Kershaw, RN) also sailed with 'Force A'. She had on board many staff personnel that she was to take to Kilindini where the HQ of the Eastern Fleet was going to be based for the moment.

Aircraft of the carriers had to be flown on during the day but bad weather conditions prevented this and it had to be postponed. HMS Alaunia was therefore sent ahead escorted by HMS Emerald. They rejoined 'Force A' on 27 April.

At 1830/26 HMS Indomitable escorted by HMS Paladin and HMS Panther were detached to fuel in the Seychelles and then proceed on other duties. ( 3 )

10 Aug 1942

Convoy WS 21S, Operation Pedestal.

Convoy WS 21S and the concentration of the escort forces

Convoy WS 21S departed the Clyde on 2 August 1942. The convoy was made up of the following ships American freighters Almeria Lykes (7773 GRT, built 1940), Santa Elisa (8379 GRT, built 1941), British freighters Brisbane Star (12791 GRT, built 1937), Clan Ferguson (7347 GRT, built 1938), Deucalion (7516 GRT, built 1930), Dorset (10624 GRT, built 1934), Empire Hope (12688 GRT, built 1941), Glenorchy (8982 GRT, built 1939), Melbourne Star (11076 GRT, built 1936), Port Chalmers (8535 GRT, built 1933), Rochester Castle (7795 GRT, built 1937), Waimarama (12843 GRT, built 1938), Wairangi (12436 GRT, built 1935), and the American tanker Ohio (9264 GRT, built 1940).

These ships were escorted by light cruisers HMS Nigeria (Capt. S.H. Paton, RN, flying the flag of the Rear-Admiral 10th C.S., Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. A.S. Russell, RN) and the destroyers HMS Wishart (Cdr. H.G. Scott, RN), HMS Venomous (Cdr. H.W. Falcon-Stewart, RN), HMS Wolverine (Lt.Cdr. P.W. Gretton, OBE, DSC, RN), HMS Malcolm (A/Cdr. A.B. Russell, RN), HMS Amazon (Lt.Cdr.(Emgy) Lord Teynham, RN), HMS Derwent (Cdr. R.H. Wright, DSC, RN) and HMS Zetland (Lt. J.V. Wilkinson, RN).

A cover force made up of departed Scapa Flow on the same day. This force was made up of the battleships HMS Nelson (Capt. H.B. Jacomb, RN, flying the flag of Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN) and HMS Rodney (Capt. J.W. Rivett-Carnac, DSC, RN). They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Ashanti (Cdr. R.G. Onslow, DSO, RN), HMS Eskimo (Cdr. E.G. Le Geyt, RN), HMS Somali (Cdr. E.N.V. Currey, DSC, RN), HMS Tartar (Cdr. St.J.R.J. Tyrwhitt, DSC, RN), HMS Pathfinder (Cdr. E.A. Gibbs, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Penn (Lt.Cdr. J.H. Swain, RN) and HMS Quentin (Lt.Cdr. A.H.P. Noble, DSC, RN). They were to rendez-vous with convoy WS 21S at sea on 3 August. HMS Penn was delayed by a defect and after topping off with fuel at Moville, Northern Ireland overtook the force and joined at sea.

The aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (Capt. H.C. Bovell, CBE, RN, flying the flag of Rear Admiral A.L.St.G. Lyster, CB, CVO, DSO, RN) and the light cruiser HMS Sirius (Capt. P.W.B. Brooking, RN) meanwhile had already left Scapa Flow on 31 July 1941 to rendez-vous with the convoy. They were escorted by the destroyers HMS Intrepid (Cdr. C.A.deW. Kitcat, RN), HMS Icarus (Lt.Cdr. C.D. Maud, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Fury (Lt.Cdr. C.H. Campbell, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Foresight (Lt.Cdr. R.A. Fell, RN). These ships were joined at sea on 1 August 1942 by the aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. G.T. Philip, RN), loaded with spare fighter aircraft for the operation, and her two escorts the destroyers HMS Buxton (Lt.Cdr. I.J. Tyson, RD, RNR) and HMS Sardonyx (Lt.Cdr. A.F.C. Gray, RNR). HMS Argus and her two escorting destroyers had departed the Clyde on 31 July. HMS Buxton later split off and proceeded towards Canada and HMS Sardonyx proceeded to Londonderry.

The last ships to take part in the operation to depart the U.K. (Clyde around midnight during the night of 4/5 August) were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (Capt. T.O. Bulteel, RN), loaded with Hurricane fighters for Malta, and her escorts, the light cruiser HMS Manchester (Capt. H. Drew, DSC, RN) and the Polish destroyer ORP Blyscawica (Lt.Cdr. L. Lichodziejewski, ORP). They were joined at sea, around dawn, by HMS Sardonyx coming from Londonderry. The destroyers parted company around midnight during the night of 5/6 August. They arrived at Londonderry on 7 August. HMS Furious and HMS Manchester then joined convoy WS 21S around midnight of the next night but HMS Manchester parted company shortly afterwards to proceed ahead of the convoy and fuel at Gibraltar.

On 1 August 1942 the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable (Capt. T.H. Troubridge, RN), light cruiser HMS Phoebe (Capt. C.P. Frend, RN) and the destroyers HMS Laforey (Capt. R.M.J. Hutton, RN), HMS Lightning (Cdr. H.G. Walters, DSC, RN) and HMS Lookout (Lt.Cdr. A.G. Forman, DSC, RN) departed Freetown to proceed to a rendez-vous position off the Azores.

On 5 August 1942, the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle (Capt. L.D. Mackintosh, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Charybdis (Capt. G.A.W. Voelcker, RN) and the the destroyers HMS Wrestler (Lt. R.W.B. Lacon, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott (Cdr. I.H. Bockett-Pugh, DSO, RN) and HMS Vansittart (Lt.Cdr. T. Johnston, RN) departed Gibraltar also to the rendez-vous position off the Azores.

The convoy conducted maneuvering and AA exercises with the escorts between the Azores and Gibraltar during the period of 6 to 9 August. (Operation Berserk). Also dummy air attacks were carried out by aircraft from the carriers.

Passage of the Straits of Gibraltar and organization of escort forces.

The convoy then passed the Straits of Gibraltar during the night of 9/10 August 1942 in dense fog but despite this the convoy was detected by German and Italian spies and reported.

After passing the Straits of Gibraltar the convoy was organized as follows The actual convoy was protected a large force of warships until the whole force would split up before entering the Sicilian narrows after which ‘Force X’ under command of Rear-Admiral Sir H.M. Burrough, CB, DSO, RN was to accompany the convoy to the approaches to Malta where they would be met by the Malta Minesweeping Flotilla, which was then to sweep the convoy into the harbour. Force X was made up of the following ships: Licht cruisers: HMS Nigeria (flagship), HMS Kenya,, HMS Manchester. AA cruiser: HMS Cairo (A/Capt. C.C. Hardy, DSO, RN). Destroyers: HMS Ashanti, HMS Fury, HMS Foresight, HMS Icarus, HMS Intrepid, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Penn. Escort destroyers: HMS Derwent, HMS Bicester (Lt.Cdr. S.W.F. Bennetts, RN), HMS Bramham (Lt. E.F. Baines, RN), HMS Ledbury (Lt.Cdr. R.P. Hill, RN) and HMS Wilton (Lt. A.P. Northey, RN). Also the rescue tug HMS Jaunty was to be part of this force.

After the escort was to be split up cover was provided by ‘Force Z’ under Vice-Admiral E.N. Syfret, CB, RN. This force was made up of the following ships: Battleships: HMS Nelson (flagship) and HMS Rodney. Aircraft carriers: HMS Victorious, HMS Indomitable and HMS Eagle. Light cruisers: HMS Phoebe, HMS Sirius and HMS Charybdis. Destroyers: HMS Laforey, HMS Lightning, HMS Lookout, HMS Eskimo, HMS Somali, HMS Tartar, HMS Quentin, HMS Ithuriel (Lt.Cdr. D.H. Maitland-Makgill-Crichton, DSC, RN) HMS Antelope (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Sinclair), HMS Wishart and HMS Vansittart. Escort destroyer: HMS Zetland. Also attached were the aircraft carrier HMS Furious (for Operation Bellows, the launching of Hurricane fighters for Malta. HMS Furious only carried four Albacore aircraft for A/S searches after the Hurricanes had been launched) and the ‘spare’ destroyers HMS Keppel (Cdr. J.E. Broome, RN), HMS Malcolm, HMS Venomous, HMS Vidette (Lt.Cdr. E.N. Walmsley, DSC, RN), HMS Westcott, HMS Wolverine, HMS Wrestler and HMS Amazon. These ‘spare’ destroyers were to take the place of destroyers in the screen ‘Force Z’ if needed, escort HMS Furious during her return passage to Gibraltar after she had completed Operation Bellows and / or strengthen the escort of ‘Force R’.

Then there was also ‘Force R’, the fuelling force. This force was made up of the following ships: Corvettes: HMS Jonquil (Lt.Cdr. R.E.H. Partington, RD, RNR), HMS Spiraea (Lt.Cdr. R.S. Miller, DSC, RNR), HMS Geranium (T/Lt. A. Foxall, RNR) and HMS Coltsfoot (T/Lt. the Hon. W.K. Rous, RNVR). Rescue tug: HMS Salvonia. RFA tankers: RFA Brown Ranger (3417 GRT, built 1941, Master D.B.C. Ralph) and RFA Dingledale (8145 GRT, built 1941, Master R.T. Duthie).

Before we give an account of the passage of the main convoy we will now first describe the operations taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean (Operations MG 3 and MG 4), the launching of the Hurricane fighters for Malta by HMS Furious (Operation Bellows) and the return convoy from Malta (Operation Ascendant) as well as on submarine operations / dispositions.

Diversion in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As part of the plan for Operation Pedestal the Mediterranean Fleet had to carry out a diversion in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean. Before we go to the operations in the Western Mediterranean we will first give an account of the events in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It was at this time not possible to sent any supplies from Egypt to Malta as all supplies and forces were much needed for the upcoming land battle at El Alamein it was agreed that ‘a dummy convoy’ would be sent towards Malta with the object of preventing the enemy to direct the full weight of their air and naval power towards the Western Mediterranean.

In the evening of 10 August 1942 a ‘convoy’ (MG 3) of three merchant ships departed Port Said escorted by three cruisers and ten destroyers. Next morning one more merchant ship departed Haifa escorted by two cruisers and five destroyers. The two forces joined that day (the 11th) and then turned back dispersing during the night. The Italian fleet however did not go to sea to attack ‘the bait’.

The forces taking part in this operation were: From Port Said: Merchant vessels City of Edinburgh (8036 GRT, built 1938), City of Lincoln (8039 GRT, built 1938) and City of Pretoria (8049 GRT, built 1937) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Arethusa (Capt. A.C. Chapman, RN), HMS Euryalus (Capt. E.W. Bush, DSO, DSC, RN), the AA cruiser HMS Coventry (Capt. R.J.R. Dendy, RN) and the destroyers HMS Jervis (Capt. A.L. Poland, DSO and Bar, DSC, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. M.S. Townsend, OBE, DSC and Bar, RN), HMS Pakenham (Capt. E.B.K. Stevens, DSO, DSC, RN), HMS Paladin (Cdr. A.F. Pugsley, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Dulverton(Lt.Cdr. W.N. Petch, OBE, RN), HMS Hurworth (Lt.Cdr. J.T.B. Birch, RN), HMS Eridge (Lt.Cdr. W.F.N. Gregory-Smith, DSC, RN), HMS Hursley (Lt. W.J.P. Church, DSC, RN), HMS Beaufort (Lt.Cdr. S.O’G Roche, RN) and HMS Belvoir (Lt. J.F.D. Bush, DSC and Bar, RN).

From Haifa: Merchant vessel Ajax (7797 GRT, built 1931) escorted by the light cruisers HMS Cleopatra (Capt. G. Grantham, DSO, RN, flagship of Rear-Admiral P.L. Vian, KBE, DSO and 2 Bars, RN), HMS Dido (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, RN), the destroyers HMS Sikh (Capt. St.J. A. Micklethwait, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Zulu (Cdr. R.T. White, DSO and Bar, RN), HMS Javelin (Cdr. H.C. Simms, DSO, RN) and the escort destroyers HMS Tetcott (Lt. H.R. Rycroft, RN) and HMS Croome (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Egan, RN).

After dark on 11 August 1942 the force turned back and the City of Pretoria returned to Port Said escorted by HMS Eridge and HMS Hursley. The City of Edinburgh, escorted by HMS Beaufort and HMS Belvoir proceeded to Haifa. The City of Lincoln escorted by HMS Dulverton and HMS Hurworth proceeded to Beirut and finally the Ajax, escorted by HMS Tetcott and HMS Croome returned to Haifa. HMS Dido had to return to Port Said with hull defects. She was escorted by HMS Pakenham, HMS Paladin and HMS Jervis.

HMS Cleopatra, HMS Arethusa, HMS Sikh, HMS Zulu, HMS Javelin and HMS Kelvin then proceeded to carry out another diversion (Operation MG 4). They bombarded Rhodos harbour and the Alliotti Flour Mills during the night of 12/13 August but did little damage. On the way back HMS Javelin attacked a submarine contact in position 34°45’N, 31°04’E between 0654 and 0804 hours. She reported that there was no doubt that the submarine was sunk but no Axis submarines were operating in this area so the attack must have been bogus. This force returned to Haifa at 1900/13.

Operation Bellows.

During operation Bellows, the aircraft carrier HMS Furious, started 37 Spitfire which were to proceed to Malta, when south of the Balearic Islands. The Admiralty had decided to carry out this operation at the same time as Operation Pedestal.

HMS Furious remained with the convoy until 1200/11. She then launched the Spitfires for Malta in 5 batches between 1230 and 1515 hours. During these flying off operations she acted independently with the destroyers HMS Lookout and HMS Lightning. After having launched the last batch of Spitfires she briefly re-joined to convoy until around 1700 hours when she split off and set course for Gibraltar escorted by the destroyers HMS Malcolm, HMS Wolverine and HMS Wrestler. These were joined shortly afterwards by HMS Keppel and HMS Venomous.

Around 0100/12, HMS Wolverine, rammed and sank the Italian submarine Dagabur which was trying to attack HMS Furious. Around 0200 hours, HMS Wolverine reported that she was stopped due to the damage she had sustained in the ramming. HMS Malcolm was detached to assist her.

At 1530/12, the destroyer HMS Vidette joined the screen. The force then entered Gibraltar Bay around 1930/12. The damaged HMS Wolverine arrived at Gibraltar at 1230/13 followed by HMS Malcolm around 1530/13.

Operation Ascendant

On 10 August 1942 the empty transports Troilus (7648 GRT, built 1921) and Orari (10107 GRT, built 1931) departed Malta after dark for Gibraltar. They were escorted by the destroyer HMS Matchless (Lt.Cdr. J. Mowlam, RN) and the escort destroyer HMS Badsworth (Lt. G.T.S. Gray, DSC, RN). They first proceeded to the south of Lampedusa, then hugged the Tunisian coast as far as Galita Island. Near Cape Bon they encountered the Italian destroyer Lanzerotto Malocello that was laying a minefield. They had a brief gunfight but this was soon ended as both sides were thinking the enemy was Vichy-French. The remained of the passage to Gibraltar was uneventful and the convoy arrived at Gibraltar shortly before noon on 14 August 1942.

Submarine operations / dispositions. Eight submarines took part in the operation these were HMS Utmost (Lt. A.W. Langridge, RN), HMS P 31 (Lt. B. Kershaw, DSO, RN), HMS P 34 (Lt. P.R.H. Harrison, DSC, RN), HMS P 42 (Lt. A.C.G. Mars, RN), HMS P 44 (Lt. T.E. Barlow, RN), HMS P 46 (Lt. J.S. Stevens, DSC, RN), HMS P 211 (Cdr. B. Bryant, DSC, RN), HMS P 222 (Lt.Cdr. A.J. MacKenzie, RN). Two of these were to carry out normal dived patrol to the north of Sicily, one off Palermo, the other off Milazzo which is futher to the east. The other six submarines were given alternative patrol lines south of Pantelleria, one od which they were to take up at dawn on 13 August 1942, according to the movements of enemy surface ships that might threathen the convoy from the westward. When the convoy had passed the patrol line, which it should have done by that time, the submarines were to proceed on the surface parallel to the convoy as a screen and to dive away clear of the convoy at noon. It was expressly intended that they should be seen on the surface and reported by enemy aircraft in order to deter enemy warships from attacking the convoy.

Enemy warships did go to sea but as soon as it was clear that the enemy ships could not reach the convoy the sunmarines were ordered to dive and retire. These six sumarines had no contact with the enemy. One of the the two submarines off the north coast of Sicily, HMS P 42, managed to torpedo two Italian cruisers near Stromboli on the morning of 13 August 1942.

Now we return to the main convoy to Malta.

Passage eastwards after passing the Straits of Gibraltar.

10 and 11 August 1942.

After passing through the Straits of Gibraltar in the early hours of 10 August 1942, in dense fog, the convoy was first sighted by an Italian passenger aircraft, which sighted the convoy in the afternoon of the same day. German reconnaissance aircraft started shadowing the convoy from dawn on the 11th, and thereafter they or Italian aircraft kept the convoy under continuous observation, despite the effort of the fighters from the carriers to shoot them down or drive them off. At 1315 hours, HMS Eagle, was hit an sunk by torpedoes from the German submarine U-73 which had penetrated the destroyer screen. At that moment there were thirteen destroyers in the screen, the remainder was away from the main convoy, escorting HMS Furious during the flying off operations of the Hurricane fighters for Malta or oiling from and screening ‘Force R’ which was several miles away. Between 1430/10 and and 2030/11 no less then three cruisers and twenty-four destroyers fuelled from the two oilers of ‘Force R’.

At the time of the torpedoing of HMS Eagle the convoy was in four columns, zigzagging at 13 knots, with the heavy ships stationed close round it and a destroyer screen ahead. HMS Eagle was on the starboard quarter of the convoy. She was hit on her starboard side by four torpedoes which had dived through the destroyer screen and the convoy columns undetected and then torpedoed and sank the Eagle in position 38°05’N, 03°02’E (Another source gives 03°12’E but this might be a typo). The carrier sank quickly in about 8 minutes, 926 of her crew, including the Commanding Officer, were rescued by the destroyers HMS Laforey and HMS Lookout and the rescue tug HMS Jaunty. At the time of her sinking, HMS Eagle had four aircraft on patrol. These landed on the other carriers. All other aircraft were lost with the ship. The survivors picked up were later transferred to the destroyers HMS Keppel, HMS Malcolm and HMS Venomous that were to escort HMS Furious back to Gibraltar. The tug HMS Jaunty that had been involved in picking up survivors was never able to rejoin the convoy due to her slow speed.

Late in the afternoon air attacks were expected so Vice-Admiral Syfret ordered the destroyer to form an all-round screen. Indeed the air attacks started around sunset, 2045 hours. The last destroyers had just returned from oiling from ‘Force R’. The enemy aircraft that were attacking were 36 German bombers and torpedo aircraft, Ju 88’s and He 111’s, most of which attacked the convoy but a few attacked ‘Force R’ to the southward. The Junkers arrived first, diving down from 8000 feet to 2000 / 3000 feet to drop their bombs. They claimed to have hit an aircraft carrier and one of the merchant ships. Then the Heinkels attacked, they claimed to have torpedoed a cruiser but during the attacks no ship was hit. The British fighter cover was unable to attack / find the enemy in the failing light. Four enemy aircraft were claimed shot down by the ships AA fire but it appears only two JU 88’s were in fact shot down.

12 August 1942

At 0915/12 another wave of German aircraft attacked the convoy. Some twenty or more JU 88’s approached the convoy out of the sun ahead. They were intercepted by fighters about 25 miles from the convoy. About a dozen got through to the convoy, making high-level or shallow dive-bombing attacks individually but without any result. Eight German aircraft were claimed to be shot down by the fighters and two more by AA guns from the ships. The fighters meanwhile were also busy dealng with shadowers, three of which are claimed to have been shot down before the morning attack. Around this time destroyers were also busy with numerous submarine contact which were attacked by depth charges.

Around noon the enemy launched heavy air attacks from the Sardinian airfields. Seventy aircraft approached which were heavily escorted by fighters. They attacked in stages and employed new methods.

First ten Italian torpedo-bombers were each to drop some sort of circling torpedo or mine a few hundred yards ahead of the British force, while eight fighter bombers made dive-bombing and machine-gun attacks. The object at this stage was clearly to dislocate the formation of the force and to draw anti-aircraft fire, making the ships more vulnerable to a torpedo attack which soon followed with over forty aircraft. They attacked in two groups, one on either bow of the convoy. The next stage was a shallow dive-bombing attack by German aircraft, after which two Italian Reggiane 2001 fighters, each with a single heavy armour-piercing bomb were to dive bomb on one of the aircraft carriers, whilst yet another new form of attack was to be employed against the other carrier, but defects in the weapon prevented this attack from taking place.

The enemy attack went according to plan besides that the torpedo attack was only made half an our after the ‘mines’ were dropped instead of five minutes. British fighters met the minelaying aircraft, they shot down one of them as they approached. The remaining nine aircraft dropped their ‘mines’ at 1215 hours in the path of the force, which turned to avoid the danger. The mines were heard to explode several minutes later. Only three of the fighter-bombers of this stage of the attack appear to have reached as far the screen, but HMS Lightning had a narrow escape from their bombs.

The torpedo-aircraft appeared at 1245 hours. Their number were brought down a bit due to British fighters. The remaining aircraft, estimated at 25 to 30 machines, attacked from the port bow, port beam and starboard quarter. They dropped their torpedoes well outside the screen some 8000 yards from the merchant ships which they had been ordered to attack. The force turned 45° to port and then back to starboard to avoid the attack.

In the next stage, around 1318 hours, the German bombing attack, the enemy scored their one success. These aircraft were also intercepted on their way in but about a dozen of about twenty aircraft came through. They crossed the convoy from starboard to port and then dived to 3000 feet. They managed to damage the transport Deucalion which was leading the port wing column. More bombs fell close to several other ships.

Finally, at 1345 hours, the two Reggiane fighters approached HMS Victorious as if to land on. They looked like Hurricanes and HMS Victorious was at that time engaged in landing her own fighters. They managed to drop their bombs and one hit the flight deck amidships. Fortunately the bomb broke up without exploding. By the time HMS Victorious could open fire both fighters were out of range.

The Deucalion could no longer keep up with the convoy and was ordered to follow the inshore route along the Tunisian coast escorted by HMS Bramham. Two bombers found these ships late in the afternoon, but their bombs missed. At 1940 hours, however, near the Cani Rocks, two torpedo aircraft attacked and a torpedo hit the Deucalion. She caught fire and eventually blew up.

The convoy passed some 20 miles north of Galita Island and spent the afternoon avoiding enemy submarines which were known to be concentrated in these waters. There were innumerable reports of sightings and Asdic contacts and at least two submarines proved dangerous. At 1616 hours, HMS Pathfinder and HMS Zetland attacked one on the port bow of the convoy and hunted her until the convoy was out of reach. HMS Ithuriel, stationed on the quarter, then attacked, forced the enemy to surface and finally rammed her. She proved to be the Italian submarine Cobalto. Meanwhile HMS Tartar, on the starboard quarter, saw six torpedoes fired at close range at 1640 hours, and the next destroyer in the screen, HMS Lookout sighted a periscope. Together they attacked the submarine, continuing until it was no longer dangerous. There was no evidence this submarine was sunk.

At 1750 hours, HMS Ithuriel, which was on her way back to the convoy after sinking the Italian submarine Cobalto was attacked by a few dive-bombers, when still a dozen miles astern of the convoy. At this time the convoy came under attack by aircraft stationed on Sicily. This force numbered nearly 100 aircraft. Ju.87 dive-bombers as well as Ju.88’s and SM-79’s all with a strong escort of fighters. The enemy started attacking at 1835 hours, the bombers attacking from both ahead and astern which last was the direction of the sun. The torpedo aircraft came from ahead to attack on the starboard bow and beam of the convoy.

The Italian SM-79’s torpedo bombers dropped their torpedoes from ranges of about 3000 yards outside the destroyer screen, and once again the convoy turned away to avoid them. However the destroyer HMS Foresight was hit by a torpedo and disabled. The bombers chose HMS Indomitable as their main target. She was astern of HMS Rodney at the time on the port quarter of the convoy. Four Ju.88’s and eight Ju.87’s came suddenly out of the sun and dived steeply towards HMS Indomitable from astern. Some of the Ju.87 came down to 1000 feet and the carrier received three hits and her flight deck was put out of action. Her airborne fighters eventually had to land on HMS Victorious. HMS Rodney meanwhile had a narrow escape when a bomber attacked from ahead. One enemy aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by AA fire from the ships while the fighters claimed nine more although there were about twice as much enemy fighters in the air then British.

HMS Tartar took the damaged HMS Foresight in tow and proceeded westward for Gibraltar. Next day, as they were shadowed by enemy aircraft, and enemy submarines were known to be in the area, it was decided to scuttle the cripple before both ships might be lost. HMS Tartar then torpedoed HMS Foresight a few miles from Galita Island.

Passage through the narrows, 12-13 August 1942, and the loss off HMS Manchester.

These last air attacks took place about 20 nautical miles west of the Skerki Channel and at 1900 hours, when the attacks were clearly over, Vice-Admiral Syfret turned away with ‘Force Z’. It was now up to Rear-Admiral Burrough with ‘Force X’ to take the convoy to Malta.

At 2000 hours, when the convoy was changing it’s formation from four to two columns, the convoy was attacked by Italian submarines. The submarine Dessie attacked a freighter with four torpedoes and claimed three hits. The sound of the torpedo hits was however not caused by her attack but by an attack by the Axum which hit three ships, HMS Nigeria, HMS Cairo and the tanker Ohio.

HMS Nigeria had to turn back to make for Gibraltar escorted by the escort destroyers HMS Derwent, HMS Wilton and HMS Bicester. Rear-Admiral Burrough transferred his flag to the destroyer HMS Ashanti. The stern of HMS Cairo had been blown off and she had to be sunk as she was beyond salvage with both engines also out of action. She was scuttled by HMS Pathfinder. The Ohio meanwhile managed to struggle on.

At this time the convoy was still trying to form up the the submarine attacks messed things up and right at thus time the convoy was once more attacked from the air in the growing dusk at 2030 hours. About 20 German aircraft, Ju-88’s made dive bombing and torpedo attacks, hitting the Empire Hope with a bomb and the Clan Ferguson and Brisbane Star with torpedoes. The first of these ships had to be sunk (by HMS Bramham, the second blew up but the last eventually reached Malta. Soon after this attack, at 2111 hours, HMS Kenya was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Alagi. She was able to evade three of the four torpedoes but was hit in the bow by the fouth. She was however able to remain with the convoy.

The situation was then as follows. HMS Kenya and HMS Manchester with two merchant ships, and with the minesweeping destroyers HMS Intrepid, HMS Icarus and HMS Fury sweeping ahead, had passed the Skerki Channel and were steering to pass Zembra Island on the way to Cape Bon. HMS Ashanti, with Rear-Admiral Burrough on board was fast overhauling these ships. The other two destroyers HMS Pathfinder, HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury, were rounding up the remaining nine merchant ships. The escort destroyer HMS Bramham was also catching up after having escorted the single Deucalion until she sank.

On learing about the fate of HMS Nigeria and HMS Cairo, Vice-Admiral Syfret detached HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali to reinforce Rear-Admiral Burrough. It would take these ships several hourse to catch up with the convoy.

The main body of the convoy passed Cape Bon around midnight. Fourty minutes later enemy Motor Torpedo Boats appeared and started to attack. Their first victim was HMS Manchester which was torpedoed at 0120/13 by the Italian MS 16 or MS 22. She had to be scuttled by her own crew. Many of her ships company landed in Tunisia and were interned by the Vichy-French but about 300 were picked up by destroyers (first by HMS Pathfinder, and later by HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. These last two destoyers then set off towards Gibraltar.)

Four and possibly five of the merchant ships were also hit by the Motor Torpedo Boats. These were the Wairangi, Rochester Castle, Almeria Lykes, Santa Elisa and probably the Glenorchy. They were attacked between 0315 and 0430 hours about 15 nautical miles south-east of Kelibia whilst taking a short cut to overhaul the main body of the convoy. Four were lost, only the Rochester Castle survived and she managed to catch up with the main body of the convoy at 0530 hours. The Glenorchy was sunk by the Italian MS 31, the other four, of which the Rochester Castle survived as mentioned earlier, were hit by the German S 30 and S 36 as well as the Italian MAS 554 and MAS 557.

Shortly before 0530 hours HMS Charybdis, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali had joined the main body of the convoy making the force now two cruisers and seven destroyers with the transports Rochester Castle, Waimarama and Melbourne Star. The damaged tanker Ohio was slowly catching up. With her was the escort destroyer HMS Ledbury. Astern of the main body was the Port Chalmers escorted by the destroyer HMS Penn and the escort destroyer HMS Bramham. The destroyers recued the crew of the Santa Elisa when the passed by the abandoned ship which was afterwards finished off by a German bomber. The Dorset was proceeding without escort and lastly the damaged Brisbane Star was still keeping close to the Tunisian coast independently, intending to steer towards Malta after nightfall.

At 0730 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, sent back HMS Tartar and HMS Somali to Kelibia to assist HMS Manchester and then go to Gibraltar. When they arrived they found out that the Manchester had been scuttled several hours earlier so they rescued those of her crew that had not reached the shore yet and then made off to Gibraltar as ordered. Besides crew of the Manchester they also picked up survivors from the Almeria Lykes and Wairangi.

The next encounter with the enemy was an air attack on the main body of the convoy at 0800 hours by German bombers. About 12 Ju.88’s made a shallow diving attack coming down from 6000 feet to 2000 feet to drop their bombs. Two dived on the Waimarama hitting her several times and she blew up immediately, one of the bombers was even destroyed in the explosion. HMS Ledbury saved some of her crew out of the blazing sea. At 0925 hours, when the Ohio, Port Chalmers and Dorset where with the main body again, a few Ju.87’s escorted by Italian fighters attacked. They dived down to 1500 to 1000 feet. HMS Kenya leading the port column, and the Ohio last ship but one in the starboard column, had narrow escapes. One of the enemy aircraft crashed on board the Ohio just after having released it’s bomb after being damaged by gunfire from the Ohio and HMS Ashanti. Another aircraft was claimed to have been shot down by fighters from Malta that had been patrolling overhead since daybreak.

Arrivals at Malta 13-15 August 1942.

At 1050 hours, about 20 bombers, mostly Ju.88’s with a few Ju.87’s, came in to attack. Target was the Ohio and she received four or five near misses and her engines were disabled. At the same time the Rochester Castle in the port column was near-missed and set on fire but she continued with the convoy. The Dorset which was astern of her was hit and stopped. The convoy went on leaving the Dorset behind with the Ohio and two destroyers.

At 1125 hours the last air attack on the main body took place. Five Italian SM.79’s attacked with torpedoes and almost hit the Port Chalmers as the torpedo got stuck in the paravane. Further attacks on the main body were held of by fighters from Malta. At 1430 hours, four minesweepers from Malta joined the main body of the convoy, these were HMS Speedy (Lt.Cdr. A.E. Doran, RN, with the group’s commander A/Cdr. H.J.A.S. Jerome, RN on board), HMS Hebe, HMS Rye and HMS Heyte. Also with them were seven Motor Launches ML 121, ML 126, ML 134, ML 135, ML 168, ML 459 and ML 462. HMS Rye and two of the ML’s were sent towards the damaged Ohio which was ‘vital for Malta’, according to A/Cdr. Jerome.

At 1600 hours, Rear-Admiral Burrough, set course to the west with his two cruisers and with five destroyers. The Port Chalmers, Melbourne Star and Rochester Castle arrived in Grand Harbour around 1800 hours with the force of A/Cdr. Jerome. The Rochester Castle was by that time very low in the water, she had just made it into port on time.

Out were still the Ohio, Dorset and the Brisbane Star. The valuable Ohio had been helpless with HMS Penn and HMS Bramham. When HMS Rye arrived at 1730 hours, HMS Penn took the Ohio in tow. Meanwhile HMS Bramham was sent to the Dorset but soon afterwards German bombers came again and the ships were attacked repeatedly until dark. Both merchantman were hit around 1900 hours and the Dorset sank.

At daylight on the 14th HMS Ledbury arrived to help bringing the Ohio to Malta. HMS Speedy also soon arrived on the scene with two ML’s. The rest of his force he had sent to search for the Brisbane Star. At 1045 hours, enemy aircraft made their last attempt, causing the parting of the tow. Fighter from Malta shot down two of the attackers. The tow was passed again and the slow procession went on and in the morning of the 15th the vital tanker finally reached Malta.

The Brisbane Star had by then also arrived. She left the Tunisian coast at dusk on the 13th. Aircraft had attacked her unsuccessfully and one of the attackers was shot down by a Beaufighter escort that had been sent from Malta. She arrived at Malta in the afternoon of the 14th.

Italian surface ships to operate against the convoy ?

The convoy had experienced the violence of the enemy in every shape except that of an attack by large surface ships. Yet Italian cruisers and destroyers had been at sea to intercept and attack it. Two light cruiser had left Cagliari in the evening of 11 August 1942 and the heavy cruisers Gorizia and Bolzano from Messina, and a light cruiser from Naples had sailed on the morning of the 12th. That evening reconnaissance aircraft reported one heavy and two light cruisers with eight destroyers about 80 nautical miles to the north of the western tip of Sicily and steering south. It would have been possible for this force to meet the convoy at dawn on the 13th so the shadowing aircraft was therefore ordered in plain language to illuminate and attack. This apparently influenced the Italians as they had limited air cover and they turned back at 0130/13 when near Cape San Vito. At 0140 hours the aircraft reported that it had dropped its bombs but no hits had been obtained. Similar orders were signalled, in plain language, to relief shadowers and to report the position of the enemy force to the benefit of imaginary Liberator bombers in case the Italians would change their minds and turn back. They however held on to the eastward.

The submarine HMS P 42 sighted them around 0800/13 off Stromboli and attacked with four torpedoes claiming two hits. She had in fact hit the heavy cruiser Bolzano which was able to proceed northwards and the light cruiser Muzio Attendolo which managed to reach Messina with her bows blown off. The other cruisers went to Naples. Following the attack P 42 was heavily depth charged by the destroyers but managed to escape.

In fact the following Italian ships had been at sea heavy cruisers Gorizia, Trieste, Bolzano, light cruisers Eugenio di Savoia Raimondo Montecuccoli, Muzio Attendolo. They were escorted by eleven destroyers Ascari, Aviere, Camicia Nera, Corsaro, Fuceliere, Geniere, Legionaro, Vincenzo Gioberti, Alfredo Oriani, Grecale and Maestrale.

The return to Gibraltar.

The British ships returning to Gibraltar had better fortune. Having left the convoy off Malta in the afternoon of the 13th, they rounded Cape Bon around 0130/14 and from that point until past Zembra Island they successful ran the gauntled of E-boats laying in wait.

at 0450/14, near the Fratelli Rocks, a submarine fired torpedoes at HMS Ashanti from the surface. She was nearly rammed by HMS Kenya, which was next astern of the ‘flagship’ (Rear-Admiral Burrough was still in HMS Ashanti). The inevitable shadowers arrived soon after daylight to herald their air attacks that began at 0730 hours. They lasted until around 1315 hours. German bombers came in first with three attemps by a few Ju.88’s. This was followed by a more severe attack with about 30 bombers, Ju-88’s and Ju-87’s between 1030 and 1050 hours. An hour later 15 Savoia high-level bombers attacked followed until 1315 hours by torpedo-carrying Savoia’s. Around 20 aircraft attacking single or in pairs. Also aircraft are though to be laying mines ahead. Several ships were near missed, but no further damage was sustained. After these attacks the British were left alone and in the evening they joined ‘Force Z’.

Vice-Admiral Syfret had gone as far west as 01’E where he ordered the damaged carrier HMS Indomitable to proceed to Malta with HMS Rodney and a destroyer screen (which). He then turned back to the east to make rendez-vous with Rear-Admiral Burrough. They arrived at Gibraltar on the 15th.

A few hours before they arrived the damaged HMS Nigeria and her escort had also entered port, as had HMS Tartar, HMS Eskimo and HMS Somali. On her way back HMS Nigeria had been attacked by torpedo-bombers and a submarine but she had not been hit.

Out of the fourteen ships that had sailed only five arrived ‘safe’ at Malta. This was not a very high score also given the very heavy escort that had been provided also taken in mind that an aircraft carrier, a light cruiser, an AA cruiser an a destroyer had been lost and two heavy cruiser had been damaged. But the convoy had to meet very heavy air attacks by over 150 bombers and 80 torpedo aircraft, all in the space of two days. Also these aircraft were protected by fighter in much greater strength that the carriers and Malta could provide. And there were also the enemy submarines and E-boats.

The spirit in which to operation was carried out appears in Vice-Admiral Syfret’s report: ‘ Tribute has been paid to the personnel of His Majesty’s Ships, both the officers and men will desire to give first place to the conduct, courage, and determination of the masters, officers, and men of the merchant ships. The steadfast manner in which these ships pressed on their way to Malta through all attacks, answering every maneuvering order like a well trained fleet unit, was a most inspiring sight. Many of these fine men and their ships were lost. But the memory of their conduct will remain an inspiration to all who were privileged to sail with them. ‘ ( 5 )

3 Jun 1943
HMS Usurper (Lt. D.R.O. Mott, DSC, RN) conducted exercises off Campbeltown with aircraft from HMS Indomitable (Capt. G. Grantham, CB, DSO, RN). ( 6 )

4 Aug 1944
During 4 and 5 August 1944 HMS Sea Rover (Lt. J.P. Angell, RN) conducted exercises off Trincomalee. These included night exercises. Gunnery exerises were carried followed by a practice attack on HMS Indomitable (Capt. J.A.S. Eccles, RN).

In the early morning hours of the next day an A/S exercises was carried out with destroyers. ( 7 )

19 Aug 1944

Operation Banquet, Carrier raid against Padang, Sumatra, Netherlands East Indies by ships of the Eastern Fleet.

On 19 July 1944 ships from the Eastern Fleet put to sea from Trincomalee, Ceylon. The Task Force was called Force 64 and was made up of the following ships British aircraft carriers HMS Victorious (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, CBE, RN), HMS Indomitable (Capt. J.A.S. Eccles, RN), the British battleship HMS Howe (Capt. H.W.U. McCall, DSO, RN), the British light cruisers HMS Ceylon (Capt. G.B. Amery-Parkes, RN), HMS Kenya (Capt. C.L. Robertson, RN) and the British destroyers HMS Rotherham (Capt. H.W. Biggs, DSO, RN), HMS Raider (Lt.Cdr. K.W. Michell, DSC, RN), HMS Redoubt (Lt.Cdr. N.E.G. Ropner, DSO, RN), HMS Rapid (Lt.Cdr. M.W. Tomkinson, DSC and Bar, RN) and HMS Rocket (Lt.Cdr. H.B. Acworth, OBE, RN).

On the 17th the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Easedale (8032 GRT, built 1942 escorted by the Dutch light cruiser HrMs Tromp (A/Capt. F. Stam, RNN) had already gone to sea to be in a position to refuel ships from Force 64 on the 22th.

On the 24th the carriers launched aircraft to attack Padang. They claimed to have sunk a transport and to have damaged two more transports. ( 8 )

27 Oct 1944
During 27 and 28 October 1944, HMS Spirit (Lt. A.A. Catlow, RN), conducted exercises off Trincomalee with HMS Indomitable (Capt. J.A.S. Eccles, RN), HMS London (Capt. R.V. Symonds-Tayler, DSC, RN), HMS Cumberland (Capt. P.K. Enright, RN), HMS Lewes (T/Lt. M.H. Grylls, SANF(V)), HMS Whelp(Cdr. G.A.F. Norfolk, RN) and HMS Wager (Lt.Cdr. R.C. Watkin, RN). These included night exercises. ( 9 )

  1. ADM 53/116490 + ADM 199/2558 + ADM 199/2569
  2. ADM 53/116077
  3. ADM 199/426
  4. ADM 199/1389
  5. ADM 199/651 + ADM 234/353
  6. ADM 173/18392
  7. ADM 173/18676
  8. Files and (Dutch Archives, The Hague, Netherlands) and WO 203 / 4980 (British National Archives, Kew, London)
  9. ADM 173/18789

ADM numbers indicate documents at the British National Archives at Kew, London.

Indomitable incorporated new turret training engines controlled by a single wheel which proved a great advance over earlier equipment. The new gear showed "marked reduction in throw-off and good control of starting, stopping and creep with little effort on the handwheel. [13]


In 1913, Indomitable was slated as part of the seventeen ship order to receive a director. It was fitted after December, 1915 and shortly before the Battle of Jutland, [14] as her first-ever test firing with it occurred on 23 May, 1916 and – while a success – its newness prompted the choice to not employ it at Jutland. [15]


In late 1913, the ship landed a Pattern 740 Zeiss stereo spotting telescope Mark II at Portsmouth in order to take on a Ross Pattern 873 model for a three-month comparative evaluation. [16]

HMS Indomitable

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Construction and Commissioning [ edit | edit source ]

Indomitable was laid down by Vickers-Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness, on April 10 th 1937, as war loomed ever closer. She was launched on August 25 th , 1939 and commissioned on June 10 th , 1940. She was christened by Clementine Churchill.

European Theatre [ edit | edit source ]

Pacific Theatre [ edit | edit source ]

In mid 1942, Indomitable was assigned to the British Pacific Fleet and took part in an attack on the Japanese base on Truk alongside several other RN carriers. Ώ]

In late 1942, Indomitable was part of the Allied naval forces involved in the Battle of the Java Sea. ΐ]


She was then able to slowly right herself again, and we just steamed back to Malta. I was told that Captain Grantham took the calculated risk of counter-flooding to get the ship on an even keel, in doing so he had flagrantly disobeyed the Admiralty who believed that "letting water into the ship is exactly what the enemy intended," but saved Indomitable from the fate that befell Ark Royal in 1941. Indomitable had been torpedoed by a German [Ju88] aircraft during the Fleet's own airborne attack, and so had appeared to the guard ships to be a returning friendly aircraft, you see. The torpedo struck roughly mid-ships on the portside, below my cabin, it tore a 30-ft. (9m) hole on the waterline stretching aft, it should have been a mortal blow.

Unlike Ark Royal, the captain of Indomitable did not give the same ridiculous ideology-based order not to counterflood (the reason given being that letting in water was the enemy's objective!)

Counterflooding reduced the severity of the list and by 0230 Indomitable was capable of making her way back to Malta at 14 knots. Indomitable's pumps were able to control and reverse the flooding. These measures, combined with the calm seas, saved the ship.

With the flooding stemmed and the immediate crisis over, the decision was made to move HMS Formidable into Division 1 to cover Nelson and Rodney, while HMS Indomitable would return to Malta with Division 2's Warspite and Valiant.

It was a slow but steady journey. Indomitable reduced her speed to just 11 knots for fear of worsening the gaping hole in her side.

She moored in Grand Harbor shortly after 12.30pm.

Letter from Flag Officer Commanding, Force ‘H’ to Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean
[ADM 199/ 2513] 28 July 1943
Narrative of Force ‘H’ during Operation ‘Husky’ - Sicily landings, 5– 17 July 1943

66. At midnight the Force which was carrying out zig-zag No. 44 altered course from 070 degrees to 090 degrees by ZEO method. At 0020 ships altered course to 070 degrees on the port leg of the zig-zag and at 0030, 40 degrees to starboard.

67. Weather conditions. Moon, etc. The moon, 13 ½ days old, bore 230 degrees, altitude 30 degrees. Moonset 0430. Wind, very light, E.N.E. Sea calm. Visibility very high.

68. At 0020 NELSON’s Type 273 [radar] obtained an echo 057 degrees 8 miles which was telephoned to the Air Defence Position and the Compass Platform as “probably aircraft”, and approximately two minutes later the aircraft was reported by the Air Defence Officer as being in sight 2 ½ miles ahead. Due to the loudspeaker telephone not being warmed up in time the initial Radar reports did not reach the Admiral’s bridge and the first I knew of aircraft in the vicinity was the sighting report from NELSON’s Air Defence Position about 0023. Immediately afterwards NELSON opened fire. While fire was in progress, owing to the noise, it was not possible to pass to the Remote Control Office any instructions to transmit a manoeuvring signal: this would not, however, have been effective as INDOMITABLE had already been hit by a torpedo on the port side. As far as could be seen, NELSON was the only ship which opened fire during this attack but this was too late.

69. Prior to the attack, the Air Defence Officer and one officer and a rating in the Air Defence Position, were the only persons in the flagship to sight the aircraft, and NELSON reports that fire was not opened earlier owing to uncertainty as to whether it was hostile. At 0032 a V/ S signal timed 0030 was received from INDOMITABLE stating “Have been torpedoed port side”. This was reported by W/ T in my 160100B July amplified by my 160210B July.

70. Seeing that INDOMITABLE was dropping astern I ordered, by V/ S, the two wing destroyers of the screen, PIORUN and ECHO, to join her, and when it was reported that INDOMITABLE had turned right round and was steaming in the opposite direction I decided to turn the Fleet to follow her and accordingly “BW 270” was ordered at 0400.

71. Almost as soon as the “BW 270” signal was executed, NELSON’s 273 [radar] reported aircraft bearing 015 degrees 8 miles and shortly afterwards 345 degrees 3 ½ miles. I therefore ordered a sector barrage in Sector “G” which was in operation as the screen passed NELSON.

72. NELSON turned to port towards the aircraft instead of to starboard to execute the 180 degrees turn and RODNEY followed round. All ships in the line and most of the screen fired on this occasion. It seems preferable that there were two enemy aircraft in the vicinity and that they were successfully turned away by the barrage.

73. About this time I ordered ILEX by W/ T to join INDOMITABLE as I was not sure that both destroyers ordered by V/ S had made contact.

74. Thereafter the Force was manoeuvred as necessary to collect INDOMITABLE and get her under the screen but this was not effected until about 0350 as she was steaming down moon, viz, nearly away from the original direction of advance. During this period INDOMITABLE’s Albacores were flying in the vicinity of the Force for some time before they understood that they were to return to Malta.

75. I then decided to rendezvous with the 2nd Division as soon after daylight as possible and signalled this intention to the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean (my 160320B July). Junction with the 2nd Division was effected at 0730, INDOMITABLE was turned over to the 2nd Division and FORMIDABLE joined the 1st Division who then with AURORA (Commodore Commanding, 12th Cruiser Squadron) and PENELOPE, proceeded to the north eastward …

Two bomb hits - one forward, one aft - put HMS Indomitable out of action, but not in danger of sinking

“On 12th August, at approximately 1845 with ship closed up at “Action Stations”, three explosions were heard in Damage Control Headquarters, and within a few minutes ship listed 10* approximately to port.”

Indomitable was steaming at 22knots in fine weather. The sunlight was strong, the sea calm, and there was virtually no wind or cloud.

The damage reports came thick and fast.

There was a major fire in the forward torpedo room, close to “A” Group 4.5in turrets.

A large fire was reported aft in the Lower Hangar Decks

The Main Naval store between 121 and 127 stations was flooded, as was the main deck above. This induced an 8 degree list to port.

The first order appears to have been something of an ill-considered panic response: The Captain reported to the Damage Control Headquarters that “A” turrets were on fire and ordered “A” magazines to be flooded.

Damage control responded immediately: All the “forward group” magazines were flooded, including pom pom, fireworks, torpedo warhead and small arms spaces.

A review panel later deemed this to have been unnecessary. The magazines, being deep within the ship, were some considerable distance from the turrets themselves.

The Captain's next command was to counteract the list. Flooding of counter-balance compartments began and the carrier returned to an even keel within 30 minutes of the attack.

Witness account
From Sea Flight, by Hugh Popham

The raid had reached its peak when, suddenly, a squadron of 12 Stukas appeared, high in the sky over Indomitabe. Fighters were after them, and a hurricane of flak went up from all sides, as one after another they peeled off at 12,000ft and dived on the ship. The 1000-pounders rained down in a concentrated onslaught, and in a moment she had vanished behind a dense geyser of spray. Two, three, were hit and plunged across the sky into the sea but Indomitable was hit too. Smoke and steam billowed up above the wall of water and for a quarter of a minute it seemed as if she could never re-appear except as a smoking hulk. Then, slowly, as the mass of water heaved up by the near-misses subsided, she emerged, listing, on fire fore and aft, nearly stopped, but still afloat.

From every ship men watched her anxiously isolated from the disaster, yet sharing in it, impotent to hep yet suffering the wound as if it were to their own ship and their friends. For twenty minutes she dragged in a slow circle, her deck heeling and the smoke pouring from her. Then she began to right, and the smoke that seemed to issue from the lifts lost its density and thinned into a wisp a signal lamp blinked: “SITUATION IN HAND”, and she steadied on course.

Dense smoke rapidly began to spread through the ship. In particular the Central Communications Office and Switchboard Flat were filled with acrid fumes drawn through the ventilation shafts from fires started in the Boys’ Mess from Near Miss 1.

This could have eventuated in a serious communication break-down during the damage control operation. However, ventilation valves were shut and ducts diverted, limiting the penetration of the smoke.

Electric phone communications remained operational throughout the crisis and enabled fast reporting and relay of orders.

The lower hangar reported no damage from the adjacent impacts.

However, the situation in the main – upper – hangar was much more confused.

The damage control report reads:

“(The Upper) Hangar became full of smoke and lit by red glare from end to end It could not be ascertained whether hangar was on fire or not.”

The hangar sprayers were activated as a precaution, with water pooling up to 6 inches on the port side due to the carrier’s list. The drains worked effectively.

The hangar’s forward asbestos fire curtain lowered normally, but the aft curtain proved to have been jammed by distortion from the blasts.

It was soon determined that a large oil drip tray had caught alight in the forward deck, as had a fuel hose in the aft hangar space.

Both were quickly extinguished by foam hoses and the armoured doors to the lifts rolled shut. A fire in the Film Store was next to be tackled.

The aircraft petrol systems were drained and flammable materials stowed.

Most of the smoke entering the hangar had come from the forward lift well, part of which had been blown inward from the bomb blast and subsequent ammunition explosions.

Hangar damage control teams and four hoses were quickly redeployed to help with the fires in the forward Torpedo Body Room and the Petty Officer’s Mess beneath it. FAA ratings were deployed to the hangar to take their places.

The fire in the torpedo room was to prove something of a concern. The calcium store had caught fire and its intense flames would only eventually be contained through heavy use of chemical foam and sand.

Fired raged over several decks of the forward-starboard side, eventually setting off the ammunition in “A1” 4.5in Turret’s Ready Use Locker

Such was the intensity of the blaze and that fears were held for the integrity of “A2” 4.5in mount's Ready Use Locker. The Captain ordered the starboard side wireless masts be urgently raised in order to allow a destroyer to come alongside and play its own fire hoses through the gaping wound in Indomitable’s side.

Damage control teams took 45 minutes to control the blaze.

Witness account
From Sea Flight, by Hugh Popham

The main hits had been for’ard of the for’ard lift and aft of the after lift. The former had pierced the flight-deck and exploded in the mouth of the hangar, killing, or wounding with flash-burns, many of the ratings working on the aircraft. The force of the explosion raised the seventy-ton lift, which was up, two feet above flight-deck level, where it stuck jammed on its chains, and started a fire in the torpedo store… The latter also pierced the flight deck, buckling the after lift, and laying waste the officers’ cabin flats. A third thousand pounder had struck the side of the ship, just above the waterline, where it had burst on impact, wrecking the wardroom anteroom, and killed the half-dozen officers – mostly off-duty pilots and observers from the Albacore squadrons – who were there at the time…

Despite the thirty-foot hole ripped out her hull below the waterline which had been discovered in dock, Indomitable was still capable of twenty-six knots… The after lift was still working, and such Fulmars and Albacores as were still on board were ranged. The carpenters set to and built a ramp up to the rostrum of the for’ard lift. And as we steamed up the Irish Channel the aircraft were flown off.

HMS INDOMITABLE on fire fore and aft after being bombed.

In the lower aft decks of the ship the crew raced to prevent the flooding from Near Miss 2 spreading.
Watertight doors from the Nos 5 and 6 Naval Stores – initially thought to have been left open but subsequently found to have been blasted upward – were closed. The Lower Deck’s Armaments and Decontamination stores were also flooded.

Flooding in the Main Naval Store on the Main Deck beneath was controlled.

In the Hold, the deepest section of the ship, the Port Gland space, Plumber’s Block and Small Arms magazine were also subject to rapid flooding.

Adjacent compartments on all three decks were tested for air pressure before crews entered to plug and shore the bulkheads.

The fires raging above them made the task even more daunting.

Seventeen fire hoses had been strung through the ship to douse the flames extending over three decks in the stern – not counting those run along the Flight Deck to play upon the thick black smoke billowing from the gaping wound in the deck.

Damage Assessment

With the fires under control and the Indomitable’s list corrected, the full extent of the carrier’s damage became apparent.

The 14in penetration hole near Indomitable's forward lift.

Forward Lift: The forward lift was badly buckled by compression from the adjacent bomb hit.
The blast had lifted the platform upward, but the sprocket chains had held – albeit badly stretched and distorted. Initially the 9ft starboard buckle would have prevented aircraft operations. But later efforts by damage control teams to correct the distortion with block-and-tackle flattened it to a 2ft centreline “arch” so as aircraft – without a torpedo – would be able to fly off. Motors, transmission gear and electrical equipment on the starboard side of the lift well had been destroyed by the bomb. Those on the port side were largely intact. Nevertheless, the lift remained jammed in the up position.

Aft Lift: The deep damage from Near Miss No2 and the bomb on the aft flight deck had slightly distorted the aft lift’s mechanisms. The platform itself had sagged several inches on the middle line.

The Admiralty commented in the Damage Control Report:

“In the design of these lifts provision had been made for operation under conditions which might produce a considerable degree of misalignment of the transmission gear . This feature, although involving considerable cost, proved to be of great advantage in the case of the after lift as it rendered possible its continued use after damage was sustained.”

Damage Control quickly set to work in fairing off the 6in depression and disengaging the jammed port transmission. The lift was soon returned to operation at half-speed by means of the starboard motors and transmission.

CLICK on the above image for a larger view.Top left and centre, views of the blasted hull just forward and below of "A" Group 4.5in gun mounts. Bottom left, the buckled forward lift - forced upwards by the blast of the 550lb SC bomb.

Bomb Hit 1 – 550lbs (250kg) SC

The first bomb strike penetrated the strengthened steel of the Flight Deck alongside the forward lift, passing through the 10lbs of the Upper Gallery deck before detonating some 16ft after its first impact point – just above the Upper Hangar Deck.

It was pointed out the 14-in hole reported in the 60lb steel plate alongside the forward lift was too small for a 1100lb (500kg) SD-style bomb. Intelligence recorded the diameter of this weapon was 18in, with an older style being 15.5in.

Only the 550lb (250kg) SD bomb had a 14in diameter.

One report argues that the blast damage in the forward hit was most consistent with that of an SC-style ‘burster’ bomb.

Several large shell fragments were eventually recovered which supported the argument that the bomb had been a 550lb (250kg) SC type.

A large flap of hull plating dangles out from the starboard forward section of Indomitable, blasted outward by the 550lb GP bomb and subsequent detonation of the 4.5in shells in "A1" Ready Use locker..

Damage to forward sections

The first bomb struck near the forward lift, 6ft to starboard of its forward edge, at 30 station. This section of the flight deck was unarmoured, though it was strengthened 1.5in steel.

The bomb punched a 14in hole in the Flight Deck and passed the Upper Gallery Deck to burst just above the Upper Hangar Deck level. It blasted a hole of up to 30ft in diameter between the three decks and peppered the nearby structure with splinters.

The forward lift was also affected: The blast bent its starboard side upwards considerably. The adjacent accelerator was also buckled and the forward wind barriers warped out of their recesses.

The Flight Deck itself was lifted by up to 2ft from 22station through to 34 station.

The bomb detonation ignited a serious fire which spread to petrol lines and the No1 Torpedo Body Room.

The seat of the fire was below and slightly forward of A1 Turret. Some 15 minutes after the bomb struck, the A1 4.5in Ready-Use Locker exploded – most likely due to heat igniting cordite charges.

HMS INDOMITABLE's disemboweled A1 turret, shortly after damage control parties doused the flames. HMS CHARYBDIS is crossing the carrier's stern. Picture: FAA Museum

This is believed to have burnt a hole in the deck, allowing the shells to roll into the fires below where they eventually burst. This added considerably to the casualties and damage forward.

The explosions had ripped a large hole in Indomitable’s side, pushing out a sizeable portion of plating between 21 and 30 stations to dangle above the water. The lower gallery, main gallery and hangar deck spaces were opened to the elements.

As the fire raged, damage control teams ensured “A2” Ready-Use 4.5in Locker remained sealed and safe from the flames.

Both turrets, along with “B” Director, were destroyed and more than 20 of the Royal Marine gun crew killed.

CLICK on the above image for a larger view.Top and centre left pictures show the gutted section of aft fight deck. Bottom left is a view of the wrecked interior.

Bomb Hit 2 – 550lbs (250kg) SC

This bomb penetrated the 14lb steel of the aft Flight Deck as well as the 10lbs Upper Gallery Deck, detonating just above the Upper Hangar Deck. It also had travelled 16ft from the point of first impact.

No trace could be found of the initial penetration hole from which the bomb diameter could be established. The section of deck plating had been blasted up and folded over the port side of the ship - bulkhead walls sticking upwards like fins. This large section of steel was rapidly cut from the deck and tipped over the side by damage control teams - taking with it the evidence that would have been provided by the bomb entry hole.

However, the bomb analysis team argued that the extent of this damage indicated a “burster” type high-explosive SC weapon, and not a SAP bomb. It ruled the weapon to have been 250kg (550lb).

HMS Indomitable, ferrying Spitfires immediately before leaving Gibraltar for repairs.

Damage to aft sections

The second bomb struck the Flight Deck close to the centreline at 164 station, between the aft lift and the round-down.

Its detonation had a dramatic effect on the Flight Deck. The light 14lb plates were ripped open over a 56ft by 40ft area.

The starboard side had been lifted upward. The port side of the blast had folded over a large section of the Flight Deck and Gallery-Deck bulkheads.

These had to be burned away and pushed over the side to allow aircraft to carefully touch-down further forward on the flight-deck.

The rear lift remained operational, though only at half speed. As with HMS Formidable, the design requirement that the lifts remain operational despite misalignment proved worthwhile.

The bomb passed through the Upper Gallery Deck, detonating just above the Upper-Hangar Deck in cabins alongside No2 Torpedo Body Room.

The nearby warheads were successfully protected from the blast and fire by their armoured mantlets. But the fires and debris caused extensive damage to the Torpedo Body Room and surrounding cabins. A Fabric Store in the Upper Gallery Deck was also set ablaze.

The blast ripped a hole 16ft wide in the aft Hangar Deck (not part of the actual hangar itself, though).

CLICK on the above image for a larger view. Pictures show the peppered port hull plates from inside the wardroom and outside the ship.

Near-miss One – 550lb (250kg)

Another bomb clipped the side of one of the port pom-pom directors at 63 station. This bomb’s detonator was triggered after it clipped the lower edge of the port pom-pom director sponson, leaving a groove in the bulkhead .

It travelled a further 16 feet before exploding in the air some 5ft from the ship’s side.

While the blast from the air-burst shredded the 17 and 14lbs side plating between 59 and 63 port stations, it also sent shrapnel deep into the ship. The bomb destroying a large section of the hull plating covering the Boys Mess and the Wardroom.

Indomitable’s Wardroom had been filled with off-duty pilots and observers from 827 Squadron’s Albacores. The detonation sent splinters ripping through the space, killing and wounding everybody within it.

A small fire was reported in the Boy’s Mess above, but this was quickly controlled. It was a similar situation in the lower, body-strewn Wardroom. The blast and fragments had killed many, but fire had not established a firm hold by the time damage control parties arrived.

Splinters were found up to 52ft inside – some 57ft from the point of detonation after passing through the 17lbs of the ship’s side and 10lbs of the Wardroom bulkhead. About 52ft of Wardroom’s internal bulkhead was torn from its welded heel to the deck, forcing it into the adjoining central corridor.

The damage from the blast was judged have been caused by another 250kg (550lb) SC warhead.

CLICK on the above image for a larger view. Pictures show the damaged port hull plates from below the waterline after a 1100lbs "near miss".

Near Miss 2 – 500lbs (250kg) or 1100lbs (500kg)

Extrapolating the true nature of this bomb proved to be the most contentious.

Witnesses reported seeing a “large” bomb strike the water some 25ft from the port-aft quarter of Indomitable off the stern quarter at 125 station.

Bomb analysts later determined it must have exploded at a depth of 25ft.

The detonation was alongside the aft lower-corner of the side armour which was unaffected.

However, the concussion blew in the side of the carrier over an area of 48ft by 20ft. The ship’s 20, 25 and 30lbs shell plating was blown inwards from the Lower Deck to the bottom of the shaft passage.

The she ship’s side was peeled open between 121 and 133 bulkheads, with dishing in frames before and aft this space. All wing compartments between 113 and 139 stations were flooded – to a length of 104ft. Indomitable rapidly took on some 760 tons of water to induce an eight degree list.

DUBD asserted a 1100lbs (500kg) SAP bomb would not be capable of causing that level of damage at that distance. The thickness of the bomb’s wall to allow armour penetration and “shaped” nature of the charge being highlighted as reducing the “near miss” effectiveness of the 320lbs of TNT within.

Rather, DUBD argued the bomb would have had to be something in the order of a 2200lbs (1000kg) HC or GP bomb to produce the necessary blast effect from that distance.

The naval office disputed this: Its calculations showed a 1100lbs (500kg) HC or GP bomb could produce enough compression at 25ft to inflict the damage experienced.

A fragment of the bomb recovered from Indomitable’s No2 Naval Store bore the naval office out. The 6mm thickness of the bomb’s walls were consistent with both 550lbs (250kg) and 1100lbs (500kg) SC bombs.

The conclusion was that either a 550lbs (250kg) bomb had fallen closer than the stipulated 25ft, or that the bomb had indeed been a 1100lbs (500kg) bomb as originally reported.

Near-miss three

A third bomb of unknown size detonated in the sea off the aft port quarter, with the shockwave causing minor damage to the rudder. A dozen or so splinters also punched their way through the hull to the Captain’s apartments.

The ship's company of HMS INDOMITABLE pose for a photograph after escorting the Malta Pedestal convoy. The buckled forward lift can be seen in the left foreground.