Aircraft Carrier HMS Victorious at War

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7657) More torpedoes for the enemy being wheeled to their aircraft on board HMS VICTORIOUS whilst she was in the North Atlantic or off the coast of Norway where she was taking part in an offensive against enemy shipping and helping to cover a Russian convoy. Two Fairey Barracudas can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Comments Charles McCain: “the Fairey Barracuda was a fighter/bomber and/or torpedo bomber used by the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. This aircraft was slow, underpowered and never an operational success. Its performance with the British Pacific Fleet can charitably be described as a disaster. All were immediately replaced aboard Royal Navy fleet carriers with Grumman Avengers.”


US Navy Grumman Avengers in official photo taken at U.S. Navy Naval Air Station Jacksonville



FLYING EXERCISES FROM HMS VICTORIOUS. 14 TO 16 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS AT SCAPA FLOW AND AT SEA OFF HOY. (A 7979) Lieut Cdr Sir George Lewis-Bart, RNVR, Officer Commanding 781 Squadron, pays a flying visit to HMS VICTORIOUS. He is seen looking up at the camera from on the nose of a Supermarine Walrus Amphibious aircraft as it comes alongside HMS VICTORIOUS. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Comments Charles McCain: “The Supermarine Walrus was designed and built by the same company which designed and produced the iconic Spitfire also known as the Supermarine Spitfire. As you might imagine from the name, the Supermarine company originally specialized in manufacturing amphibious planes until the specs for a fast and maneuverable fighter were issued by the British Air Ministry in the mid-30s. A special design group at Supermarine led by Reginald Mitchell took over and the rest is history. Mitchell died of cancer before the famous Spitfire ever took wing.


THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 7973) A Fairey Albacore torpedo-bomber of No 820 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm, taking off from the flight deck of HMS VICTORIOUS as the ship lies at anchor in Scapa Flow. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


FLYING EXERCISES FROM HMS VICTORIOUS. 14 TO 16 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS AT SCAPA FLOW AND AT SEA OFF HOY. (A 7976) Fairey Fulmars being warmed on the flight deck prior to take off for flying exercises. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

ON BOARD THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER HMS VICTORIOUS SAFEGUARDING THE CONVOY LANES TO RUSSIA. 24 TO 27 MARCH 1942, ON BOARD HMS VICTORIOUS IN WINTRY SEAS. (A 8139) Dressed up for the cold weather, one of the Director Turrets crew of HMS VICTORIOUS on duty. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:




Minefield. You are in it. We are not.



   Aerial photograph of British destroyer HMS Highlander (H44) underway. Rayner spent a number of months as her CO.

D.A. Rayner was an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. They wore wavy stripes on their uniforms and were called, with condescension, the “the Wavy Navy”. There was also the Royal Naval Reserve consisting of masters and mates of merchant ships. It was said that the RNVR were gentlemen trying to become officers and the RNR were officers trying to become gentleman.

Rayner compiled an outstanding record in World War Two becoming the only RNVR officer to command a Royal Navy escort group in the Atlantic. His memoir, Escort, is rich in stories of his life at sea in the war, each one more amusing than the one before. Escort is one of the best naval memoirs I have ever read. It is beautifully written (the English really know how to write English), funny, very sad at times, and brutally honest. I certainly give it five stars. Escort is truly a must read.

The war has only recently begun and Rayner is commanding an anti-submarine trawler patrolling off the coast of England. He is lost in a dense fog. There was no radar then. Out of the fog looms a Royal Navy destroyer. Rayner orders the signalman to use his Aldis Lamp (Morse Lamp to Americans) and make to the destroyer: “Can you tell me where am I?” Comes the reply: “Regret have not known you long enough to venture an opinion.” Rayner is puzzled till he discovers the signalman had actually made the message: “Can you tell me what I am?”


Though only 30, Rayner is quickly given command of a corvette, a small escort vessel used in the North Atlantic. Because of the shortage of escort ships, he has been compelled to put to sea before his charts are up to date. As he is putting into port one day, Rayner sees a merchantman sinking off his starboard bow. He asks the escort commander for leave to rescue the crew. Comes the reply, “Proceed, but your attention is called to Notices to Mariners Number______.”

Rayner rescues a boatload of survivors and sees another boatload. Comes a signal from the escort commander, “Your attention is called to Notices to Mariners_____.” This annoys Rayner but given his charts aren’t up to date, he doesn’t want to ask the escort commander what he means so he waits until another corvette steams between him and the escort commander. Rayner makes inquiry of what Notices to Mariners_____means. Comes the reply, “Minefield. You are in it. We are not.”

Watch Out for Minefield!


crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought


British fishing trawler Picton Castle converted to a minesweeper in World War Two. (photo courtesy of

Fishing trawlers made ideal minesweepers since streaming parvanes to cut mine cables was similar to deploying fishing nets. This type of minesweeping only worked on sea mines attached to cables which were attached to weights which kept the mines at a certain depth.

Life aboard the converted fishing trawlers wasn’t easy. The trawlers were part of the Royal Navy Patrol Service and except for a handful of Royal Navy sailors, the rest of the men were the original fishing crew who wouldn’t wear uniforms or salute and couldn’t read RN signals.

“Once, in Falmouth, after a raid, it was feared the entrance to the harbour had been mined, with a type which were difficult to sweep. After two days we were given special permission to leave, providing we kept to a very precise channel. As we got under way, other ships sounded their sirens, and crews frantically waved to us, wishing us luck, as we thought. On reaching Fowey, we had to explain why we had steamed right through the danger area. So that was what the other ships were trying to tell us.”

from “Death of a Minesweeper” by A.H. Archer   BBC World War Two archive


AT SEA WITH BRITISH MINESWEEPERS. NOVEMBER 1941, ON BOARD A MINESWEEPING TRAWLER OF THE DOVER COMMAND DURING A SWEEP WITH OTHER MINESWEEPING TRAWLERS OF THE COMMAND. (A 6293) A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler watches other ships of the group moving up to take station. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. A look-out on the after gun platform of a minesweeping trawler of the Royal Navy’s Dover Command watches other ships of the group moving up to take station for a sweep. Dover Command was one of the operational commands of the Royal Navy assigned to patrol a section of the English Channel as well as to constantly sweep the civilian shipping lanes for mines.




British Royal Navy minesweepers, November 1941. Minesweeping trawlers from Dover Command line up in readiness to start a sweep. 

(Photos Copyright: © IWM and used by courtesy of IWM).


Map of Royal Navy Commands covering the English Channel in World War Two

The map above shows the southern waters of Great Britain and the four Royal Navy operational commands which had responsibility for keeping the English Channel navigable and contesting German use of the Channel. The commands are: Nore Command , Dover Command, Portsmouth Command and Plymouth Command. (Map courtesy of


London: 40,000 Tons of Coal per Week


THE MERCHANT NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (HU 3349) View from on board a collier of an East Coast Convoy: merchantmen, mostly colliers, steaming in line in the North Sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

 View from on board a collier of an East Coast Convoy: merchantmen, mostly colliers, steaming in line in the North Sea. Courtesy of Imperial War Museum. Copyright: © IWM. 

By 1939, London required 40,000 tons of coal per week to generate the electricity and coal gas to power the city. Because London was the economic and industrial center of Great Britain, as well as the capital, ensuring the city received sufficient coal from coal fields in the northern part of England and Scotland was critical.

Convoy routes for colliers were designated before the war. Just a few days after war began on 3 September 1939, hundreds of ships large and small were compelled to steam up and down the Channel coast (or east coast) of England in narrow channels which were swept for mines on a daily basis.

There was no “phony war” or “bore war” for the colliers, their crews and the Royal Navy escorts which endeavored to protect them. German plans began to bomb and strafe these ships from 29 September 1939 onward.  German U-boats and aircraft sewed mines up and down the coastal waters and by May 1940 these mines had accounted for most of the 114 ships sunk in British coastal waters.

Source:  Coastal Convoys 1939 to 1940: the Indestructible Highway  by Nick Hewitt

Swordfish Bi-Plane Only Entered Operational Service 1936


Escort carrier HMS Activity in Firth of Forth 1942

Like a number of escort carriers, HMS Activity was a merchant ship converted to an aircraft carrier. After the war, the landing deck was removed and the ship returned to merchant service. Often these small carriers only carried a handful of Swordfish but aircraft patrolling over convoys proved critical in the Battle of the North Atlantic and the overall war against U-Boats. While we think of U-boats being sunk by convoy escort ships, almost half of U-Boats sunk in the European Theatre were sunk by U-boats. (Doenitz deployed a handful of U-Boats in and around Singapore).

While we think of U-boats being sunk by convoy escort ships, almost half of U-Boats sunk in the European Theatre were sunk by U-boats. (Doenitz deployed a handful of U-Boats in and around Singapore).


THE BATTLE OF ATLANTIC, 1939-1945 (A 19718) A batman uses signal bats to guide the landing of a rocket-firing Fairey Swordfish of No. 816 Squadron Fleet Air Arm on board HMS TRACKER in the North Atlantic, September-October 1943. Note the rocket projectiles under the wings. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


Swordfish were usually embarked aboard escort carriers on North Atlantic convoy duty. They made excellent U-Boat hunters once the proper type of radar was installed.

THE ROYAL NAVY DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR (A 24986) Three rocket projectile Fairey Swordfish during a training flight from St Merryn Royal Naval Air Station This operational squadron was ommanded by Lieutenant Commander P Snow RN. Note the invasion stripes carried for the Normandy landings on the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:


While originally built as a prototype for the Greek Navy, they turned it down in the mid-30s and Fairey Brothers Aircraft offered it the Royal Navy primarily for use on aircraft carriers. After design changes the plane went into production as the famous Royal Navy Swordfish which served multiple roles: patrol and reconnaissance, torpedo bomber, tactical bomber to support infantry and U-boat hunter/killer. The plane was oddly effective in all of these roles and was used operationally for the entire war.

RAFCC1939-1945 IWMCL2277

Armourers unload 250-lb GP bombs in front of a line of Fairey Swordfish Mark IIIs of No. 119 Squadron RAF, undergoing maintenance at B83/Knokke le Zoute, Belgium. The Squadron flew anti-shipping patrols, principally against German midget submarines, in the North Sea, and off the Dutch coast.

(Photo CL 2277 IWM. Taken by Flt. Lt. B.J. Daventry, Royal Air Force Official Photographer. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).


IWM 4090 Swordfish_on_HMS_Victorious_before_strike_on_Bismarck

Swordfish torpedo bombers on the after deck of HMS Victorious before the attack on the Bismarck. Date 24 May 1941. This is photograph A 4090 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums now in the public domain.




October 1941. After a reconnaissance flight, a Fairey Swordfish sea plane returns to HMS Malaya and is hoisted in board. The Swordfish was used as a “shot-spotter” by many RN battleships and cruisers. By reporting the fall of shot to the ship via radio, the theory was the gunnery officers could adjust their aim for better accuracy. This never seemed to work very well.

HMS Malaya was a Queen Elizabeth-class battleship launched in March 1915. She was named in honour of the Federated Malay States in British Malaya, whose government paid for her construction.

Unfortunately, when World War Two came, HMS Malaya had not been modernized. While rated at 25 knots the ship’s worn out engines could barely make 20 knots. The ship’s deck armour was too thin to withstand dive bomber attacks. Amenities for officers and crew were primitive. The ship’s ventilation system was particularly bad. Serving in her in tropical climates was hell.

However, her eight fifteen inch guns still packed a punch. Like many older battleships, she escorted troop convoys since all troop convoys were required to have at least one battleship in their escort.



RAF and Royal Navy ground crew refuel a Fairey Swordfish Mark III of No. 119 Squadron RAF Detachment at B65/Maldeghem, Belgium. In emergencies, Swordfish were posted ashore and used to support infantry attacks by British and Commonwealth troops. 

(photo CL 1638 from the IWM. Clark N S (Flt Lt), Royal Air Force official photographer).




In addition to use by the Royal Navy, the Swordfish was used extensively by RAF Coastal Command to hunt submarines which the plane did quite effectively once equipped with proper radar and bombs. By mid-1944, the aircraft was also equipped with air-to-surface missiles to use against U-boats.

Series of photos taken from a Swordfish during landing on escort carrier HMS Activity.

(All photos and captions courtesy of Imperial War Museum and all photos in the public domain).

IWM Swordfish photo 4090

circles HMS Activity in the distance

Swordfish approachng HMS Activity IWM

A Fairey Swordfish circles the escort carrier it is about to land on and comes astern of HMS Activity. Note the nose of the Fairey Swordfish is held well up.

swordfish about to land HMS Activity

20 yards to go, the Fairey Swordfish is hanging on its propeller and moving at not more than 60 knots. Note the “Bats” Officer on the carrier’s deck. He makes the signal to the pilot “Carry on as you are”.

Swordfish cut engine HMS Activity

The Batsman gives the signal to the pilot to cut his engine. It is essential that the order is immediately carried out, for the Fairey Swordfish is now only a foot or two off the deck and the hook is about to catch on one of the arrester wires.

Fairey Swordfish at Barrier IWM

A second photographer got a picture of the Fairey Swordfish the moment she landed. Note that the crash-barrier is up in the foreground, in case the arrester hook on the aircraft fails to pick up one of the wires.

fairey swrodfish at barrier 2 IWM

Second photo from different angle. Picture of the Fairey Swordfish the moment she landed. 

Fairey Swordfish landing 6

The Fairey Swordfish has crossed the round-down, and the arrester wires are seen just ahead. The control officer has just given the signal for the pilot to come lower. The men in the side nets are the handling crew who will seize the Fairey Swordfish the moment she lands.

Life on a Sunderland Flying Boat

Responding to an Air Ministry request for a general reconnaissance flying boat, Short mostly copied the design of their famous “Empire”  flying boat. This aircraft, which first flew in 1937, was the flagship of Imperial Airways. By making changes to the original design, the Short Brothers Sunderland flying boat was quickly approved and went operational in 1938. (Hence, ‘short’ is not a description of the plane just the name of the company which built them).



Short Sunderland in World War Two

Royal Air Force- 1939-1945- Coastal Command
No 210 Squadron Sunderland L 5798/DA-A, taxying on the water at Oban, August 1940.
Date between 1939 and 1945.

(Brits write “taxying” while Americans write “taxiing”)

photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.



Looking for U-Boats in World War Two

The pilot of a Short Sunderland of No. 201 Squadron RAF, scans the sea through binoculars while on patrol over the Atlantic from its base at Castle Archdale, County Fermanagh.  (Photo by Flight Officer H Hensser, Royal Air Force official photographer and courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.)


Sunderland On Take-Off Run

This is A Mark IIIa with Mk III engines and bomb windows, but Mk V radar blisters and nose guns. Photo and caption from Canadian Forces. Now in the public domain.


The major difficulty encountered by Short Sunderland pilots on take-off was getting the aircraft to break free from the surface tension or suction of the water. By using a special hull design, Short Brothers maximized the ability of the Sunderland to become airborne. Even with that, it could be difficult in perfectly calm weather to get the plane into the air.

Pilots would often rock their planes back and forth to break the surface tension. Taking off was never easy and sometimes the plane had to go quite a distance before it broke free from the hold of the water and became airborne. Once in the air, depending on weather and speed, the Sunderland could stay aloft for as long as fourteen hours. It carried a crew of 11. A set of bunks, kerosene stove and flush toilet were provided for the crew.



Sunderland L2163/DA-G, one of a pair from No 210 Squadron, patrolling over convoy TC6 carrying Canadian troops to Britain, 31 July 1940. The convoy had left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 23 July and was due to arrive at Greenock on 1 August. (Photo by Mr. S A Devon, RAF Official Photographer. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 Convoys carrying troops received the highest level of protection which could be mustered. This included air cover although aircraft could not stay over the convoy the entire time because the distance was too great until the arrival of Very Long Range Liberators in late 1943. Every troop convoy had both significant numbers of Royal Navy escorts and a Royal Navy battleship with its escorting destroyers.


Royal Air Force Coastal Command
A peaceful scene at Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland on 20 May 1943, as a seaplane tender passes a Sunderland of No 201 Squadron. The censor has removed all trace of the aircraft’s fuselage-mounted ASV aerials.
photo by RAF official photographer Mr. H. Hensser
photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.

Posted by Charles McCain on


Royal Air Force Coastal Command, 1939-1945. Sergeant Patrick McCombie, a flight engineer of the Royal Australian Air Force, in his bunk on board a Short Sunderland of No. 10 Squadron RAAF at Mount Batten, Plymouth, Devon. Date between 1939 and 1945.

Note the cigarette in the photo above. It not only took bravery to simply be a member of the aircrew of one of these Sunderland Flying Boats since they were relatively slow and easy to shoot down. But it took as much bravery to smoke a cigarette in an airplane filled with high octane aviation fuel which was not stored nearly as safely as aviation fuel is in modern aircraft.

Because a Sunderland Flying Patrol Bomber could stay in the air for as long as 14 hours, bunks, a small kitchen, and a flush toilet were supplied for the aircrew which usually totaled 11 men. Two men were always on board when the float plane was anchored and if there was any hint of bad weather then a pilot had to stay aboard as well to taxi the plane and turn it into the wind.

Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum


Royal Air Force Coastal Command Sunderland

August 1940The Frazer-Nash FN13 rear turret of a Sunderland of No 210 Squadron at Oban, August 1940. The Sunderland was the first RAF flying boat to be fitted with power-operated gun turrets.
This is photograph CH 854 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums now in the public domain.

mooring sunderland

Royal Air Force Coastal Command Sunderland

Close-up of the nose of a Sunderland of No 210 Squadron at Oban, August 1940. A mooring compartment was situated in the nose of the Sunderland, containing anchor, winch, boat-hook and ladder. The front turret was designed to slide back, enabling the crew to secure the aircraft to a buoy, as demonstrated here. The circle painted on the fuselage just below the cockpit is a gas-detection patch.
Date between 1939 and 1945

(photo by Devon S A (Mr), Royal Air Force official photographer, courtesy Imperial War Museum.)


you can read more details about the Sunderland in this:

excellent article on Short Sunderland from Uboat Net

Troop Transport in War


troops on queen mary 16x9

US troops aboard Queen Mary in World War Two

fascinating article in Maritime Executive on service of Cunard Line passenger ships in war:

Cunard Pays Tribute to War Service

Cunard ships have answered the call of Great Britain in every major conflict from Crimea in 1853 to the first Gulf War in 1990………….


In September 1939 the fleet was again quickly requisitioned for war service. One of the most daring voyages of the war was the secret Atlantic dash of the unfinished Queen Elizabeth in 1940 in order to remove her from Scotland and prevent her being a target for German air attacks.

The captain put to sea, with workmen still on board, and once out of the Clyde opened his sealed orders which he expected to instruct him to go to Southampton. Instead, he was told to head at full speed to New York. The secret dash was done with the launching gear still affixed to the underside of the ship, and without proper fitments inside. Men who expected to be going home by trains from Southampton within days did not get home for years.

After trooping from Australia Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth began bringing American GIs across to Europe in 1942 at full speed and unescorted. Not only were they faster than the U-Boats whose crews had been offered £100,000 by Hitler to sink either of them, but they were faster even then the torpedoes.

In summer, 15,000 soldiers were carried on each voyage – such a huge number that the men had to sleep in shifts, observing a strict one-way system on board. Queen Mary’s master, Commodore Sir James Bisset, noted that the ship was so difficult to handle under such circumstances that he was concerned for her stability. On one voyage Queen Mary carried over 16,000 which is still a record today.

All told she made 28 such trips, taking soldiers eastbound and prisoners-of-war westbound, with Queen Elizabeth undertaking a similar number. On three occasions Queen Mary was the nerve-center of the Empire as Sir Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic to see President Roosevelt.

The closest the enemy ever got to him was when he was travelling on Queen Mary as prisoners of war would be transported to the States on the decks below Churchill’s Main Deck Suite – unbeknown to those prisoners at the time. Naked flames were not allowed in cabins at any time but special allowance was made for Churchill to have a candle lit at all times – for his cigars.

The entire article is here: