Korea: The Sea Fury Years II

On 25 January HMS Theseus departed from Sasebo with four destroyers as escorts, this allowed the USS Bataan to return to port for its harbour rest period. The operating zone for the air wing was around Suwon and both the Fireflies and Sea Furies were carrying increased weapon loads with the former adding rockets to the normal bomb load. Both types were attacking targets under the control of FAC Mosquitoes and villages, vehicles and shipping along the coast were attacked with some success. It was during these operations that the Theseus lost an aircraft when a combat patrol Sea Fury, VR940, piloted by Lt A C Beavan was seen to spin into the sea the and the pilot was lost. The following day a similar pattern of operations was undertaken with the Fireflies coming to the fore as buildings, troop emplacements and villages suspected of containing enemy troops were attacked. Until 31 January flying operations continued as before, the carrier then taking its rest and replenishment day. Theseus resumed operations on 1 February, although flying was restricted by weather conditions. Some sorties were undertaken in the afternoon, support being given to beleaguered US forces in the Kumnojong area. Similar sorties were undertaken the following day although one of the returning Sea Furies was damaged on landing when the carrier pitched at the wrong moment causing damage to the undercarriage and its mountings. The following day saw both of the air wing’s squadrons undertake even more sorties in support of the Allies, the Fireflies successfully attacked troop positions in the vicinity of Suwon while the Sea Furies patrolled the coastal areas destroying vehicles and some warehouses at Wonum. At the completion of that day’s flying HMS Theseus departed for Kure handing over the duty to the USS Bataan. Once anchored in Kure Theseus took replacement aircraft from Unicorn and returned its damaged machines in return.

At the completion of its period of rest Theseus departed Kure on 12 February to resume its station and activities. While the carrier had been in port UN forces had recaptured the Inchon peninsula with Inchon and Kimpo falling on 10 February. While in transit the Theseus pilots undertook deck landing training to introduce the new pilots to the carrier and its deck practices. Operations began the next day when the Fireflies undertook sorties against enemy forces near Seoul and the Sea Furies concentrated on the area between Seoul and Pyongyang with over-flights of Haejin and Ongjin airfield also being undertaken. Sorties undertaken later that day saw the Sea Furies hitting troop concentrations that had been marked by smoke, the fighters were praised for their accuracy as the UN forces were only yards away. Over the next four days the squadrons undertook a range of attacks against enemy forces and conducted armed reconnaissance although bad weather did see some of the missions cancelled or curtailed. On 19 February the carrier had its rest and refuel day returning to its operations zone the following day. As before, weather hampered operations although sorties were flown in support of UN forces as well as their normal duties during which they destroyed the usual range of trucks, vehicles and troop concentrations. On 23 February HMS Theseus was replaced on station by USS Bataan setting course for Sasebo.

On 4 March HMS Theseus departed from Sasebo on its penultimate patrol arriving on station so that flying could start in the morning. The Sea Furies were tasked with over-flying the airfields of Ongjin and Haeju while the Fireflies concentrated upon the bridges at Chaeryong, successfully damaging them both. The afternoon sortie consisted of two Sea Furies and three Fireflies, although one of the escorting fighters had to return to the carrier with engine trouble. As the Fireflies were acting in the bombing role they were carrying 1,000 lb bombs. As these bombs were of a higher weight than normal the 20 mm cannon ammunition was removed. The bombs from the Fireflies hit the tunnel at Haeju which blocked the line and the Sea Fury undertook pre and post strike photo reconnaissance. On the following day flying was restricted due to bad weather, however they air wing made up for it the next day by successfully controlling bombardments from HMS Kenya on targets in the Chinnampo area.

On 8 March the Sea Furies were tasked with reconnaissance duties in the Seoul, Kaesong and Sinmak area. During these sorties railway installations were successfully attacked as were troop concentrations and artillery positions. Although one Firefly was badly damaged on landing all the aircraft landed safely and the carrier was able to pull out for replenishment on 9 March. Once again flying was cancelled the following day due to weather although it resumed as normal on 11 March. During this mission railway installations were again attacked successfully by both the Sea Furies and Fireflies. Having caused chaos amongst the railway services the Sea Furies then turned their attention to troop concentrations in the area of Sariwon while the Fireflies again turned their attention to bridges in the area. The next day saw the Sea Furies attacking the airfields at Ongjin and Changyon where they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire in the process. Even so the hangars at Ongjin were successfully damaged by rockets while two ammunition dumps were set alight. The afternoon sorties were dedicated to attacking troop positions under the control of a Mosquito FAC. The final active day of the patrol found the Sea Furies attacking targets in the Chinnampo area and they successfully bombed various buildings and workshops and also destroyed a junk on the way home to Theseus. The afternoon was another Mosquito FAC occasion although a Firefly was lost after being hit by antiaircraft fire. The crew Lt G H Cooles and Flt Lt D W Guy RAF perished. After this sad end the carrier departed for Sasebo arriving on 14 March, on this day the UN forces recaptured Seoul again.

HMS Theseus departed from Sasebo on 22 March in company with its usual flotilla of escorts. Upon arrival in the operational area the Sea Furies were despatched to carry out a full reconnaissance of their assigned operational area to find out if any significant changes had occurred. Once the photos had been studied and tied into the intelligence the next batch of sorties were planned. The first sorties involved the Fireflies attacking troop concentrations in the region of the ridge near Kaesong while the afternoon sorties again involved the Fireflies with 1,000 lb bombs against the bridge at Kingyong-ni while the escorting Sea Furies attacked anything that moved in the area. No flying took place the following day due to poor weather. The following day the Sea Furies attacked concentrations of vehicles in the region of Chosan-ni and Nanchonjon successfully destroying quite a few in the process. It was during this sortie that Lt Cdr Gordon-Smiths aircraft was hit in the fuselage fuel tank by an armour piercing shell, although the pilot managed to make a successful landing at Suwon. However the aircraft was written off in the process. The afternoon’s missions were under the control of the Mosquito FAC during which the Fireflies successfully bombed their assigned targets. Bad weather prevented any flying the following day but missions resumed on 26 March. As before targets in the usual area of operations were attacked while the afternoon sorties were under the control of a Mosquito FAC. Another mission saw three Fireflies with 1,000 lb bombs with a pair of Sea Furies in attendance attack villages near Haeju after which the railway and its bridges near Kaesong came in for some attention. The weather on the following day was poor which curtailed flying and so the carrier departed the area for a replenishment session. Theseus arrived off the Korean coast on 29 March and resumed its usual range of sorties around Pyongyang. As before, railway installations and troop concentrations were given close attention. Shipping was the order of the day on 30 March with six large vessels being badly damaged in Haeju harbour by the Sea Furies while the Fireflies turned their attention to a bridge near Sariwon which was damaged.

The final day of the patrol on 1 April saw the sorties delayed due to low cloud over the target area. However, it cleared enough to allow a Mosquito FAC sortie to be flown against designated targets around the Sariwon area after which Theseus returned to harbour at Sasebo for rest, recuperation and repair. Theseus returned to operational duty on 8 April although this time the location was the Sea of Japan as the fleet carriers had been transferred to Formosa as some indication had been given that Communist China might invade that island. Although this did not happen it meant that the sea going air support was purely in the hands of Theseus and USS Bataan. Although this removed the carrier support from the west coast of Korea this was compensated for by flying long range missions from the carriers. On 9 April two Sea Furies of No.807 NAS were undertaking a reconnaissance in the area of Wonsan when they were attacked by a pair of Vought F4U Corsairs whose aircraft recognition was as always decidedly suspect. Noticing the American fighters heading their way the Sea Furies decided to turn and break. That of Lt Leece was hit by cannon fire which damaged the engine and set fire to the starboard wing fuel tank. The other Sea Fury piloted by Lt Lavender managed to take evasive action both aircraft returning to Theseus. The badly damaged Sea Fury was found to have 21 bullet holes in it while the bottom skin of the integral tank had burned away letting the remaining fuel vent away completely, the other aircraft suffered a single-round strike. Two other Sea Furies were also lost that day, one was lost to a 37 mm flak round which resulted in the pilot having to make a forced landing. Unfortunately, the pilot was captured on touchdown. The other fighter was also hit by anti-aircraft fire which forced the pilot to make a high speed landing at Kangmung at the end of which the Sea Fury flipped over, although the pilot escaped suffering just shock.

These losses notwithstanding the Theseus resumed operations the next day and the Fireflies bombed the bridges at Hungnam with great success although one aircraft had to be abandoned over the sea after the engine was damaged by ground fire. After a few minutes in the sea the crew was picked up by a rescue helicopter. Refuelling and rest occupied much of 13 April. Flying resumed on 14 April with the Fireflies hitting bridges in the Hungmam area while the Sea Furies concentrated upon the rail yards at Chinnampo. It was during this attack that an aircraft, VW658, of Lt Bowman was hit by ground fire which caused him to make a forced landing after which a rescue helicopter collected him, the aircraft was destroyed by the circling fighters. Theseus continued to provide air support until 19 April when TF 95.11 departed from Korean waters for the last time arriving at Sasebo the next day to hand over the duty to HMS Glory. On the morning of 25 April HMS Theseus departed for Hong Kong en route to Portsmouth. The carrier arrived home on 25 April and was presented with the Boyd Trophy by the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Fraser.

HMS Glory took over officially from HMS Theseus on 23 April 1951. In command was Captain K S Colquhoun DSO. The air wing, 14th CAG, commanded by Lt Cdr S J Hall consisted of No.804 NAS with Hawker Sea Furies commanded by Lt Cdr J S Bailey and No.812 NAS operating Fairey Fireflies commanded by Lt Cdr F A Swanton. Fortunately for the troops on the ground the carrier’s arrival coincided with the Chinese spring offensive. Lt Cdr Hall was most unfortunate as he was shot down whilst flying VW545 in September after the aircraft was hit by flak, the Sea Fury crashed near Choppeki Point and Cdr Hall was picked up by the ship’s helicopter. Unlike the previous offensives intelligence gathering had shown that the enemy had built up even greater forces than ever before. The offensive kicked off over the night of 22/23 April against the 8th Army along the line from Kaesong to Chorwon to Kumhwa. The initial point of attack was Kapyong but that was repulsed by ground forces. This attack was followed by a similar push against Kaesong which saw the Chinese crossing the river at Imjin. The Gloucester Regiment managed to hold off the attack for three days losing many men in the process. Even this gallant effort was not enough to completely hold back the Chinese forces which continued to push hard against the 8th Army which had to fall back to Kimpo putting Seoul in danger.

In the face of this HMS Glory departed Sasebo on 26 April arriving on station only to find that the weather on 27 April cancelled flying. The following day saw a Sea Fury combat patrol being launched while a single Firefly was used for the anti-submarine patrol. Other aircraft from Glory carried on from where Theseus left off attacking targets in the Haeju region. It was during one of the Sea Fury attacks that Lt E Stephenson became detached from the rest of the flight and apparently crashed into the sea. On 29 April the carrier launched a Sea Fury mission at the request of the Mosquito FAC against targets near Yanju and Chidong-ni with rockets and cannon. The last day of the month was fairly easy for the Glory air wing as their allotted targets were any ships near the coast. Over the first week in May the Sea Furies and Fireflies attacked junks, sampans and ground targets all over their allotted area. During one of these runs Lt Barlow had his Sea Fury, VX610, badly damaged by enemy fire but, although the aircraft was destroyed, the pilot was safely collected by a USAF rescue helicopter. HMS Glory returned to Sasebo on 7 May for rest and recuperation.

Four days later HMS Glory was back on station and resumed attacks on junks and sampans moving up the coast after which the Sea Furies and Fireflies turned their attention to vehicles travelling along the road towards Haeju. On 12 May the Fireflies attacked the bridges at Wontan and Yonan. The Firefly crews were most surprised to find that the bridges had been rebuilt overnight; this was a fact of life when fighting the Chinese. The Sea Furies attacked tunnels with 60 lb rockets starting their attacks in a shallow dive and successfully exploding stores and equipment hidden there. Replenishment took place the following day and the carrier resumed station on 15 May sending four Sea Furies out to attack targets along the coast and further inland. During one of the attack runs the Sea Fury, VW669, piloted by Lt Winterbotham was hit by antiaircraft fire, the damage was severe enough to cause the pilot to ditch in the sea. Although the aircraft was lost the pilot was rescued by an American vessel after the pilot had swum to a sampan which took him to a nearby island. The following day saw a similar series of attacks carried out against enemy targets before the carrier departed for Sasebo, however, the vessel could only manage 19 knots as one of the propeller glands was overheating. Glory finally arrived in harbour late on 20 May entering the dry dock for repairs the following morning. Five days later the carrier was swinging at its buoy.

HMS Glory finally left Sasebo on 3 June to relieve USS Bataan with operational flying restarting the next day. Shipping and railway vehicles plus troops concentrations were given close attention although the air wing would lose another aircraft when Lt Watson was forced to ditch and, thankfully, he was rescued very quickly. Over the following few days the Sea Furies and Fireflies continued attacking the usual range of targets although the maintenance crews were being overworked as the Sea Furies were coming back with little holes in the skinning. Investigation revealed that some were caused by anti-aircraft fire, light weapons and shrapnel from their own rockets. On 9 June Glory underwent its replenishment day returning to station the following day. The first strike was against the village of Osan-ni with both the Fireflies and Sea Furies hit the village with full loads of bombs and rockets and left the target with the village burning fiercely. Chinnampo was also visited by the Sea Furies where warehouses were destroyed. Further operations were curtailed when the aviation fuel aboard Glory was found to be contaminated by water. The next day’s missions were limited to what the aircraft could manage with the fuel left in the aircrafts’ tanks and consequently they were limited to a quick attack against Osan-ni. With this completed the carrier departed for Kure and cleaned the tanks en route. Upon arrival in harbour Glory was moored to a quay shared with Unicorn. Using the dockside crane defective aircraft were swapped for serviceable machines.

HMS Glory sailed from Kure on 21 June with the destroyer HMS Cockade for company. The carrier was in position ready to begin flying operations on 23 June. The first sortie involved the Sea Furies which were requested by the Joint Operations Centre to attack Taegu while the Fireflies were engaged on a bombing mission against a bridge near Sariwon and a stores depot at Chinnampo. The following day both the Sea Furies and the Fireflies carried out similar attacks against targets from the previous day the latter successful in blowing up the railway bridge at Hwasan-ni causing extensive damage. Over the next four days the Glory air wing undertook similar missions blowing up junks and ox carts and communications routes. On 30 June the Sea Fury detail was launching when the aircraft of Sub-Lt Howard suffered a cold launch into the sea, although the aircraft was lost the pilot was safely recovered. Unfortunately the launch trolley badly damaged the catapult putting it out of action. As the remainder of the strike sortie was still on the flight deck RATOG units were quickly attached which allowed the mission to continue. The following day required all missions to be launched using RATOG, overall 29 Sea Furies and 18 Fireflies were despatched in this manner. The gap between each set of mission was around two hours during which the flight deck crew had to recover the returning aircraft, prepare them for relaunching while launching those already waiting. After striking their usual range of targets the aircraft returned to the carrier which in turn departed for Sasebo and much needed repairs.

Two days later, on 3 July, HMS Glory reached Sasebo having battled through the ferocious remnants of Typhoon Kate. Once secured in dock dockyard parties set about repairing the catapult while the aircraft were replaced where required and fuel, stores and ammunition were taken aboard. On 8 July Glory departed Sasebo and arrived at its operating position the following day. The first mission for the carrier was a strange one as it involved the recovery of a MiG 15 lost in shallow water and which the Americans required recovering for study. While this recovery was being planned the first round of Peace Talks had begun on 15 July 1951 at Kaesong. The recovery plan finally began on 19 July using a Sea Fury flight to pick out a safe channel as the maps of the area were inaccurate. Eventually, the small fleet of recovery vessels reached the correct position managing to recover much of it before the tide turned. Glory returned to Kure for rest and replenishment arriving on 22 July. Time in port was curtailed as the carrier was needed to reinforce the presence of USS Sicily as the ceasefire talks were in difficulty. Such was the haste of departure that six aircraft and some aircrew were left behind. HMS Glory arrived on station on 26 July although the sorties planned for the following day were cancelled due to bad weather. A similar situation existed on the following day although a few sorties were flown against those few targets visible. On 29 July the weather had improved and allowed the Sea Furies to operate in the Yonan area throughout the day. The next day the weather worsened again; not only was there extensive cloud but rough seas and high winds added to the misery. A similar situation arose the following day and was also forecast for 1 August therefore the decision was taken to undertake the replenishment that day. Returning to the operations zone the following day Glory found that the weather was suitable for flying therefore Sea Furies were launched with explicit orders to hunt down junks and rafts known to be operating along the coast with supplies for the North Korean and Chinese forces. Intermittent bad weather seemed destined to plague this period at sea as the sorties for 3 August were reduced although the Sea Furies did manage to strafe and rocket a large body of troops with great success. A similar situation occurred on 4 August although again some troops were spotted with similar results to the previous day’s exploits. As the weather was forecast to worsen it was decided that Glory should return to Sasebo arriving there the following day.

Fortunately for Glory HMS Warrior, acting as an aircraft support vessel was nearly at Sasebo finally arriving on 7 August with much needed spare aircraft. A newly replenished Glory departed on 10 August sailing via Iwakuni to collect more replacement aircraft before arriving at the assigned patrol area on 13 August. Flying resumed on 15 August. The Sea Furies attacked junks and sampans between Hanchon and Chinnampo damaging and destroying three in the process. The Sea Furies also tried a new idea: that of dropping full fuel tanks on a village suspected of harbouring enemy troops. As the tanks hit the ground the Sea Furies strafed them setting them well alight. While the Sea Furies were attacking shipping the Fireflies concentrated on troops and communications links in the Yonan area with some success. Further anti-shipping sorties occupied the Sea Furies the following day while the Fireflies concentrated on shore based targets. A hasty move south that evening was needed as Typhoon Marge was reported heading in that direction. Waiting for the typhoon to blow itself out kept the carrier out of theatre for the next two days. As there was little opportunity to continue attacking targets in Korea Glory set out for Kure sailing via Okinawa and arrived at Kure on 25 August. Post storm inspection of the aircraft lashed on deck revealed that some had suffered surface finish damage and all would require extensive cleaning.

With its aircraft problems fixed HMS Glory was ready to return to the fray, which duly took place on 2 September. Flying started soon after arrival with both squadrons attacking light shipping and railway infrastructure. It was during one of these attacks that the Sea Fury of Lt Howard was struck by anti-aircraft fire which badly damaged the engine. The pilot was left with little option but to make an emergency landing on the beach at Paengyong although the aircraft did turn over leaving the pilot to dig himself out of the sand. Over the following three days the Sea Furies continued to attack shipping while the Fireflies continued to bomb buildings and bridges. A replenishment day followed on 6 September although this was completed earlier than expected. Given this extra time it was intended to launch a range of missions, however, after two of the Sea Furies had been catapulted away it was noticed that it was not functioning correctly. Investigations revealed that the catapult would need repairing and so all aircraft launches would need RATOG packs. Further work by the ship’s engineers overnight cleared the catapult for further use, therefore any aircraft with RATOG fitted had them removed. The final patrol day, 9 September, saw Glory launch 84 sorties which was a record and was a credit to the engineers and deck handlers. After the aircraft had returned to the carrier Glory started the journey to Kure arriving there on 11 September.

HMS Glory departed Kure on 15 September resuming operations on 18 September. Both squadrons launched aircraft on that day and concentrated on enemy positions in the Wonsan area. Flying was delayed the following day due to inclement weather. As soon as conditions had cleared the catapult decided to fail again which meant that all launches again required the use of RATOG. The Sea Furies were tasked with attacking buildings after which they spotted for the destroyers bombarding targets on shore. Having been forced to use most of their RATOG equipment Glory made a quick trip back to Sasebo to collect more plus extra fuel. Returning to the fray the carrier launched a limited range of sorties on 22 September. During one of these launches a Firefly failed to get airborne correctly and crashed into the sea, the pilot was rescued but the observer was lost. The ship’s engineers redoubled their efforts to repair the catapult and the efforts finally bore fruit much to the relief of the aircrews. With the catapult back in action it was time for the Sea Furies to attack the increased sea traffic in the Chinnampo area as well an increase in rail traffic. Once airborne the Sea Furies set about destroying these targets with gusto while the Fireflies attacked buildings and troop concentrations. The following two days saw a similar pattern of attacks undertaken during which one of the attacked junks exploded dramatically. On 25 September HMS Glory undertook her final set of missions. As before the Sea Furies attacked vessels with cannon and rockets while the Fireflies concentrated on harder targets. When the final aircraft returned to the carrier it turned away to begin its voyage to Kure. Berthing at Kure the Glory found that the replacement carrier, HMAS Sydney, berthed against the other face of the jetty. As Sydney was mainly equipped with Sea Furies it was decided to increase the vessels effectiveness by transferring the Glory Fireflies and spares to the Australian vessel. On 1 October HMS Glory sailed for Hong Kong calling there en route to Australia where a refit, repair and reconditioning was carried out.

HMAS Sydney would be the active carrier in Korean waters from 30 September 1951 to 27 January 1952 the assigned air squadrons being Nos 805, 808 and 817 NAS.

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