Friday, 3 October 2003

HMS Battler - Aden, October 3rd-17th 1943

October 3rd-17th 1943

Aden - Governor of Makula

Aden - Yemen Arabs

Aden - Camel trail

Aden - Sea Wall

Aden - the Tanks

Saturday, 20 September 2003

HMS Battler - September 1943 - Letter home after Salerno

Letter / Narrative

I suspect you have by now given up hope of ever hearing from me again after such a long silence? Actually we have been rather busily engaged on the recent Italian operations so you will no doubt appreciate that my chances of writing have been practically negligible.

Your next question will probably be “what part did they play in the invasion,” so in the next paragraph I will endeavour to enlighten you on the matter.

On August 29th the Captain informed the ships company that “Battler” with numerous other ships of the Royal Navy had been formed in to a force to carry out an operation at present unknown.

So it had come, the show was on, everyone was wondering with excitement what lay ahead of us in the next few days. Shortly after hearing this news we left prot X and escorted an all American troop convoy, it was our job to give these chaps air cover and needless to say, everyone of them reached his destination safely, we shared in the killing of one German aircraft which carried out a torpedo attack on the convoy.

Five days later we arrived in Malta, part of our task was finished but the big part lay ahead. Anyway I forgot all about further operations and the war and after contacting my brother-in-law who has been living on this island for over 5 years I toured the many places of interest which of course included the local bars and in general had one hell of a good time.

Gee has Malta suffered, it’s churches, homes, hospitals and places of historic interest have been blasted to pieces, the place is nothing more than a shambles, but still life seems to go on as usual. My visit to the port ended far too soon because after only 2 days in port our ship put to sea again only this time for the grand finale.

The captain informed the ships company of what they were about to undertake. At 0315 the next morning Allied troops were going to invade the Italian coast, it was our job to provide air cover for these troops until such times as the American and Royal Air Forces were able to operate from an aerodrome in Italy.

That night we passed through the Straits of Messina, the place that had seen so much fighting, and 6 hours later our fighters were ranged on deck.

Friday, 19 September 2003

HMS Battler - Salerno September 19th 1943

In detail:

The time had come for the first section to fly off. What a moment that was for everyone, what opposition were we going to meet, the ship was just a few miles off the Italian coast, open to aerial and underwater attacks, but this did not deter anyone.

It was 0600 on the clock, a brilliant moon shone overhead, dawn was just beginning to break through the dark skies. Inside the Fighter Direction Office everything was a bustle, take off was at 0615, each squadron putting up 4 aircraft.

Doc is there of course. Doc hangs around at all the take offs and returns just in case. People bring their aircraft back in a bit of a mess sometimes, invariably the prang on the deck. Not often thank God.

On deck there is a roaring and revving as the first Spitfire gets ready, pilots of all aircraft are aboard. G for George, F for Freddie and good old N for Nuts. They are all waiting, checking gauges set. Her cannons are loaded, deadly things, each one carrying a present for the enemy.

0615 on the clock, the Commander Flying gives the green light and the first aircraft roars along the deck followed by the others in quick succession, our flight is airborne, it forms up and heads westwards to look down on the shores of Italy. Below thousands of troop ships and battle craft unload troops and supplies, above planes of the Royal Navy prevent any interference. After 1 hour and 20 minutes our aircraft return and another section take over, and so this cycle of take-offs continued day in and day out for 5 days.

5 days later

Yesterday with only 4 aircraft remaining our task was completed, we had made history by covering the biggest landing the world has ever known.

Last night we had evening quarters on deck for the men that lost their lives during the action, after which we proceeded – whether or not we will arrive back in England before XXX I really don’t know, but I can assure you that I am very much looking forward to doing so.

Wednesday, 10 September 2003

HMS Battler - Captain's speech prior to Salerno - September 1943


"I expect you have heard enough of my speeches by now. This is my final speech before the great operation timed to commence at 0330 tomorrow morning. That is the time when the first assault craft touch the sands in Salerno Bay - just south of Naples. Our first operation commences at 20 minutes before sunrise tomorrow when our first four aircraft are taking off for fighter protection for the landings. We shall continue throughout the day until sunset - a strenuous day but I know everyone will make it.

As I promised to you before, we are the Actors, with our young Fighter pilots the Stars, and the rest of us the Chorus. The stage is now set, all preliminaries are now over, and the curtain is about to go up. The audience is the world, and chief pride of place there goes undoubtedly to our Majesty King George VI, he sits in No.2 box. But in No.1 Box there sits the Greatest, and only God there is, and He will judge us on our performance tomorrow and the days to follow. He only expects each man to do his best - nothing more, and I feel completely confident that not a single one of us will be found wanting at this supreme moment of our lives.

I can do no better finally than quote the signal of the greatest sailor of all times - "ENGLAND EXPECTS EVERY MAN THIS DAY TO DO HIS DUTY" and I might add to that "WITH GOD'S HELP".

Good luck to us all and may we all meet again to celebrate a glorious victory in which "Battler" played her part.

We shall probably be slipping the two K.G.V. Battleships in the despatches, and then Force V (that is us) will proceed through the straits of Messina to our operating theatre, which is a square some 30 by 30 and some 30 to 40 miles off shore south of Naples. How long we remain there I cannot say, but it all depends on how long our Airborne Troops take to capture a very important aerodrome from which the Allies will then operate shore based Fisher patrols.

I believe we proceed to Gibraltar via Algiers on completion of the operation, but I cannot possibly tell you when that will be. That is all."-


Monday, 8 September 2003

HMS Battler - report of Salerno action 8th - 19th September 1943

I have the honour to submit my report of proceedings in Operation Avalanche carried out by Force V between 8th and 19th Sep.

8th Sep

In accordance with RAV’s signal “B” slipped for No.7 and 7a bouys and proceeded out of Malta Grand Harbour and took up station with Force V. Zigzag commenced at 1510. Entered Messina Straits at 2215, course as necessary. Firework display were observed at Messina, at other positions on both sides of the Straits, thought obviously to be Peace celebrations of the Italian surrender to the Allies.

9th Sep

Between 0045 and 0510 on the 9th gunfire was observed bearing 000 degrees. At 0517 star shells, lights and aircraft were seen bearing 000. Operating area for Force V was entered at approx 0525. At 0620 Martlets from Force H arrived over Force V. At 0848 air raid warning Red was received and negative about 12 minutes later. Force H on the beam about 14 miles, Force V’s course being 308. At 1201 a large number of landing craft were observed bearing 025, 7 miles, on course 130. Air raid warning Red at 1510 was negative at 1512. 1 Italian seaplane few across our bows at 1630 about 4 miles and dropped two depth charges, aircraft crashed into the sea 1633 bearing 220, 7 miles. Ett 1720 hospital seaplane destroyed and survivors picked up (signal from MTB 313 tuned 091710). Force H bearing 255, 6 miles at 1908 at 2252. Unidentified aircraft flew across fleet on course 160 and one with navi lights on flew over at 2202. Presume hostile a/c flew over at 2332, cleared 2345.

10th Sep

Fighter cover 4 Martlets arrived over Force V from Force H at 0635. At 0845 it was signalled that Unicorn top cover had shot down 4 enemy fighters. Sylla detected unidentified a/c ahead bearing 134, 4 miles notified that cruisers may fire barrage, gunfire heard 2313, probably from Force H

11th Sep

A/c to starboard presumably hostile at 0500. Coloured flares dropped. Destroyers make smoke screen. Gunfire heard at 0510 bearing Green 145. Fleet reported clear of hostile a/c at 0535. Large number of landing craft seen at 0740 bearing 080, 7 to 9 miles. Signal received stating that aerodrome would be serviceable at 1500 today. At 1310 depth charge dropped 2½ miles astern. More depth charges dropped at 1350, bearing 350, 1 mile portside. Unidentified a/c at 2045 5 miles closing. Smoke screen by destroyers at 205. At 2353 aircraft reported bearing 160, 9 miles. Charybdis opened fire. Secure 0013.

12th Sep

Passed tank craft, one American 8” Cruise and 2 American destroyers on bearing 020. At 0627 2 Destroyers joined Force V from Force H. Destroyers on screen dropped 2 Depth Charges at 1220 ahead of fleet. Made emergency turn at 1220 to 150. At 1355 3 Seafires flew off for aerodrome (Monte Coraino) piloted by Lt / Cdr Firth and 2 Fighting French pilots.
At 1410 Cleveland and Krackowiack reformed screen. HMS Battler anchored at Palermo with fleet at 1945.

13th Sep

Weighed anchor at Palermo 0610 and arrived at Bizenta at 1900.

Monday, 12 May 2003

HMS Battler - Report on working up - 808 Squadron and 835 Squadron

From……….Lieut. Commander (Flying)
Date………..12th May 1943
To………….Commanding Officer, HMS Battler

SUBJECT: Report on Working Up (including Admiralty Trials) 6th April 1943 to 6th May 1943


Admiralty officers embarked on 6th April. On that day three successful accelerator launches with a dead load were carried out. April 7th was unsuitable for flying owing to a gale. 808 Squadron and 835 Squadron stores and personnel were embarked. Admiralty flying trials took place on 8th and 9th April. The accelerator and arrester were passed as satisfactory.

On 10th April 835 Squadron, 6 Swordfish, embarked and also two Seafires and four Spitfires of 808 Squadron, the latter for deck landing practice as only the Squadron Commander had previous landing experience on the type. Nine other pilots of 808 Squadron had previously only done four landings each in Fulmers.

808 Squadron

From the outset trouble was experienced when landing on Seafires. On a number of occasions the aircraft was fully arrested with it’s tail well up. The tail then dropped vertically and resulted in wrinkles appearing in the stressed skin of the fuselage. On 14th April when 5 aircraft had been affected in this manner (one only slightly) it was decided to discontinue deck landing with Seafires and a report made to Admiralty.

On 18th April Admiralty officers embarked and during trials on 18th and 19th April new arrester gear settings were tried and found satisfactory except that the barriers could not be used, and Admiralty permission to continue was received on 20th April.

As the majority of the pilots had now not flown for fourteen days approval was obtained to disembark them to Machrihanish for flying practice and ADDL’s. This was done on 21st April. From this date until May 6th Fighter Direction and R/T Exercises were carried out and ten pilots in the squadron completed a minimum of four deck landings. The latter proved to be a slow process. It was considered necessary to have a minimum wind speed over the deck of 25 knots for initial DLP and this could not be achieved on three days, when Swordfish were operating successfully. The lack of sea room in the exercise area also contributed, owing to the short time that could be spent steaming into the wind.

808 Squadron flew 34 hours from the ship (100 hours from Machrihanish) and carried out a total of 109 landings. Of these, apart from wrinkled fuselages sustained after otherwise normal landings, seven resulted in minor damage which was repaired on board, and four in major damage repairable ashore.

Barriers have not yet been used when landing Seafires and settings allowed in Admiralty message timed 290332B have not been used as it was considered essential to use settings which are known to be satisfactory until pilots are more experienced. Barriers will have to be used under operational conditions, unless the number of aircraft is reduced, as two Seafires have to be carried permanently on deck.

It is considered that another fortnight will be required to complete the working up of 808 Squadron and fighter direction personnel.

835 Squadron

The squadron was increased from 6 to 9 aircraft during exercises. This caused a certain amount of dislocation as new crews had to be given landing training, and other training such as anti-submarine ASV etc The rest of the squadron had done their working up period ashore.

One day and one night ALT were carried out with their full complement of aircraft. Working up has mainly been landing practice and anti-submarine training, including navigation exercises, live dropping, attacks on towed target, ASV etc, and night flying. All pilots except two newly joined have been qualified in night deck landing on dark nights.

Except as regards new crews in certain particulars, the squadron is considered fully worked up for operations from an escort carrier and to have reached a very satisfactory standard of efficiency.

835 Squadron flew 147 hours from the ship by day, and 35 hours by night and carried out a total of 174 day amd 66 night deck landings. Of these one night landing resulted in major damage, the airframe being recommended for write off. No damage was sustained in any other landing.

Major RM, Lieut. Commander (Flying)


No undue difficulty was experienced in manoeuvring aircraft in the hangar in spite of the sloping deck and congestion with the full complement of aircraft unbanked and this is expected to be the case in any condition of sea which permits of flying.

The necessity for always refuelling on the flight deck until the petrol system is altered has been a considerable handicap, especially in the case of Seafires when the barriers are not in use as they then have to be ramped specially for refuelling and all flying operations must cease.

Maintainance of aircraft was made difficult due to the large number of spares and stores items allowed by BB 378, 378A and J not having yet been supplied.

Saturday, 19 April 2003

19h April 1943

A/c Pilot Time off Time on Wire Wind Remarks
Seafire F S/Lt Constable 1015 1018 12 34 Drifting to port. Not a good landing. Tail damaged.

19th April 1943

Flew off Swordfish (for cine camera) and wrinkled Seafire and Spitfire for Machrihanish

Swordfish 5G - S/Lt Selley - off 0905
Seafire - Lieut Wallace - off 0908
Spitfire - S/Lt Holyoak - off 0909

Ranged Seafire F to continue Admiralty trials

Monday, 7 April 2003

7th Apr 1943 - 808 Squadron and 835 Squadron embark

Embarked 808 and 835 Squadron stores and personnel. (clickable image of 835 shown below).

835 squadron on HMS Battler

Sunday, 6 April 2003

6th Apr 1943

Admiralty Accelerator trials in harbour. 3 successful launches with dead load.

Friday, 4 April 2003

Thursday, 3 April 2003

3rd April 1943

Sailed for the Clyde

Tuesday, 18 March 2003

HMS Battler - Programme for flying off seaplanes

Lt. Cdr. (Flying)

HMS Battler

Programme for Flying Off Seaplanes


Fly off two Swordfish for dawn patrol.
Range Swordfish A, crashed Seafire and one other by after lift and three main lanes (engine trollies wanted) and park forward – three main planes starboard side. On wing tips one Seafire. Strike down (1) one 808 Seafire (2) Swordfish A.
Park for landing consists of – three mainplanes, three whole Seafires, one crashed Seafire, one then two Swordfish.
Meanwhile refuel remaining Swordfish on deck completely.

0830 Land on two Swordfish and refuel (full petrol).
Range for flying off – three Swordfish to fly, four Seafires starboard aft, three mainplanes starboard forward.

0900 Fly off three Swordfish to Gibraltar.
Range one mobile and one semi-mobile Swordfish and forward Hurricane and park mobile Swordfish and Hurricane port side forward, semi-mobile starboard side immediately forward of No.3 barrier.

Range one 808 Seafire and Swordfish A by after lift and park right side aft.
Range three Seafires by forward lift, three by after lift, on wing tips and refuel.

Simultaneously range six mainplanes, four by forward lift, two by after lift, and dispose so that in all eight are placed fore and aft, two abreast, starboard side forward, and one starboard side forward of No.9 wire. Engine trollies will be required.

Move Swordfish mainplane and stow outside workshop.

Strike down crashed Seafire and Swordfish A aft, and Hurricane and mobile Swordfish forward.
Range Seafires for flying off, two or three on centre line depending on wind speed, remainder starboard side (two of 808 in front).

1300 approx. Fly off eight Seafires to Gibraltar.
Range Hurricane and Swordfish by forward lift.
Shift immobile Swordfish as far forward as possible.

Range six Seafires by forward lift, refuel and on wing tips, shifting mainplanes as necessary.
Shift Swordfish A and crashed Seafire forward in the hangar just abaft the uptake.
Strike down two 808 Seafires aft (facing aft in the lift)

Strike down Hurricane and two Swordfish (one semi-mobile) by forward lift, and two aftermost mainplanes.

Park six Seafires forward for landing on.

1645 approx.
Land on two Swordfish (the third remains in waiting position).
Range six Seafires for taking off and park two Swordfish starboard side.

1715 Fly off six Seafires to Gibraltar.

1730 Land on remaining Swordfish.

Note: The Commander is requested to provide a working party of 12 seamen for shifting mainplanes.

(sd) AR Burch
Major, RM, Lt.Cdr. (Flying)

Sunday, 12 January 2003

12th Jan 1943

Proceeded to Liverpool docks for refit

Saturday, 11 January 2003

11th Jan 1943

Remained at anchor owing to gale

Friday, 10 January 2003

10th Jan 1943

1100 Arrived Bar Light Vessel and anchored owing to fog

Thursday, 9 January 2003

9th Jan 1943

1400 sailed for Liverpool

Wednesday, 8 January 2003

8th Jan 1943 - Campbeltown Loch

8 Jan
Between 0943 and 0950 flew off 11 of 12 Martlets ranged on deck, (the twelfth would not start and was struck down) to Machrihanish about 12 miles away. All arrived safely.

Landed on one training Swordfish from Machrihanish with 3 Martlet ferry pilots as passengers. The aircraft was flown off again at once.

A/c Crew Time on Wire Wind Run out Time off
S'Fish V4490 7 Lt Williams (3 pass)1001 3 35 46'6" 1003

1005 Piped 12 remaining Martlets to range
1105 Range completed, started up
Between 1125 and 1136 flew off. All arrived safely.

Considerable anxiety was caused by the behaviour of many Martlets taking off. In particular one, flown by Lieut Cosh, sank so much after taking off that his tail wheel actually hit the sea. (This pilot subsequently returned on board and said that he appeared to get into a down draught, his engine seemed perfectly all right and he at no time went through the gate). Two others sank after taking off and appeared to have great difficulty in gaining height. The wind speed over the deck was between 35 and 38 knots. The foremost aircraft of the first range had a run of 290 feet available, and of the second 266 feet. All aircraft had a full war load, but even at this weight 7700 lbs, according to the official figures a take off run of 290 feet should need only 20 knots wind speed over the deck.

Many of the engines appeared to be running roughly as they passed the bridge and were emitting intermittent flames from the exhausts. This may have been due to the fact that owing to rough weather on passage and congestion in the hangar some engines had only been run once and the majority only twice since embarking exactly a month ago.

It was most noticeable however that the aircraft flown by Lieut Sleigh, CO 890, (not incidentally his own), was airbourne before it reached the island and then climbed steeply off the deck. It seemed to be travelling much faster than the others and no flames came out of the exhaust. Lieut Sleigh was far the most experienced pilot on board. He was stated by Lieut Cosh to have taken off through the gate, whereas few of the others including himself had, believing this practice to be harmful to their engines.

It would appear that, whatever the wind speed over the deck, pilots should use the full boost allowed by the makers for deck take-off, as distinct from aerodrome take-off.

The ship proceeded to Campbeltown Loch and anchored at 1430. Between 1445 and 1830 the personnel, stores, and baggage of all three squadrons were disembarked using one drifter and two motor launches, each of the latter doing two trips. Intended to sail to Liverpool, but remained weatherbound in the loch.

Tuesday, 7 January 2003

7th Jan 1943

7th Jan
Ranged 890 Squadron to run engines – all OK. Then struck down 2 aircraft amd ranged 6 of 892. Intended to fly off all 12 aircraft at 1500 (BST) but cancelled it owing to unfavourable weather – frequent rain squalls, low cloud and poor visibility. Ship was steaming dead into wind at 12 knots – wind speed over the deck was 35-40 knots. No up-to-date weather report was available from Machrihanish – intended destination of aircraft. Aircraft were picketed and covered and remained ranged on deck in taking-off positions.

Monday, 6 January 2003

6th Jan 1943

6th Jan
Ranged 892 Squadron to run the engines – all OK

Wednesday, 1 January 2003

1st Jan 1943

Ship rolling up occasionally to 20˚? Ranged 3 aircraft to run engine newly installed in one of 892 squadron aircraft. Aircraft showed no tendency to take charge when unlashed and was ranged with no difficulty – more than the usual number of men being required to handle each aircraft.