Stories of the Battle of Britain 1940 – HMS Glorious and the Fate of No. 46 Squadron

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Stories of the Battle of Britain 1940

HMS Glorious and the Fate of No. 46 Squadron

8 June 1940. Aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was sunk by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau off Norwegian Coast. Another RAF fighter squadron lost.
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HMS Glorious was one of the older Royal Navy carriers. Built in 1916 as a light destroyer cruiser, she was converted to a carrier in 1924-1930.
[Us Navy]


June started with two days of very bad weather, which started improving in the afternoon on the 2nd. P/O Drummond and Sgt Taylor on patrol over Narvik saw two Ju 87 Stukas attacking a destroyer by dive bombing. They attacked, and the Ju 87’s separated and made off, twisting and turning. The Hurricane pilots waited for their chance and shot them down South East of Narvik. To the astonishment of P/O Drummond, the rear gunner of the Ju 87 continued firing from the rear gun after his aircraft had crashed.

F/O Frost and Sgt Tyrer chased another Ju 87 and severely damaged it before it dived into the clouds. Frost’s windscreen was hit by a bullet which splintered it, but did not penetrate.

F/Sgt Shackley and P/O Bunker engaged five twin-engined Messerschmitts Bf 110 without result. The 110’s on sighting our aircraft formed line astern and then went into a defensive circle. Each time the British aircraft joined in, two more would get on their tails. After a time the 110’s went off South, easily out-distancing the British pilots. All that F/Sgt Shackley could to was trying a long distance shot, with no results.

On 3 June, weather turned out bad. The next day, seven patrols were carried out over Skaanland, Harstad and Narvik, but it became clear that evacuation was imminent. Sqn/Ldr Cross was given orders by the RAF to send off the ground crew for evacuation by sea and either destroy the remaining 10 Hurricanes, or fly North and be possibly evacuted, with no further statement as to how and where such evacuation could take place. That night, fifty men of including P/O Westcott and 3 Warrant Officers left for an unknown destination, carrying only marching order kit; F/L Peock left on 5 June with a further 29 men. Only the essential crew to maintain air operations remained at the site.

Chances to evacuate the remaining aircraft were slim, but Squadron Leader Cross was determined to explore all remaining possibilities in that direction. He decided that rather than flying their aircraft north into the unkown, it was better to try and get them back to a Royal Navy carrier. On 5 June, he went by Supermarine Walrus to HMS Ark Royal and HMS Glorious to make arrangements in secret for the flying on of No. 46 Squadron. Both carriers were within range of the fighters, but Ark Royal’s lifts weren’t large enough to take the Hurricanes down to the hangar deck without removing their wings. This left the HMS Glorious as the available option and it was agreed that such an operation should be attempted, even though the Hurricanes lacked arrester hooks and the type wasn’t previously tried for deck landings.

Cross returned same day with the encouraging news.

On 6 June, patrols were carried out over Narvik, Skaanland, Lodingen and Harstad. Two aircraft provided an escort for 5 Walruses bombing in the neighbourhood of Norfold, without contact with the enemy. On the following day, S/L Cross and P/O Lefevre engaged four He 111’s over Bardufoss with unknown results. F/O Knight and P/O Drummond engaged 3 He 111’s over Narvik, once again with results unknown.

Flying off to Glorious

Pilots were warned that they would have to evacuate Norway that night, and volunteers were asked to fly on to HMS Glorious. 100% volunteered, even though it was clear that landing a high-performance Hurricane without the aid of an arrester hook on a carrier was coupled with enormous risk. Flight Commander Jameson came up with the idea tying a sandbag to the Hurricane tails to give the extra weight and reduce the landing run. A  quick tests was carried out and proved a success. Fleet Air Arm would help by guiding in  the first 3 aircraft under F/L Jameson and the ships engineer would co-operated in giving instructions on speed and direction needed to get them down.  In the end, Cross selected six of the most senior pilots to fly with him to Glorious in the second wave.

At 18.00 F/L Jameson, F/O Knight, and Sgt Taylor took off for HMS Glorious, and landed successfully. Before receiving them, Glorious struck most of her own aircraft below to clear the deck. Unfortunately, her own air component would remain immobilised during the fateful following day, despite the fact that the Hurricanes could be stowed away in the hangar and so their presence did not prevent air operations.

Report of the success was sent by radio back to the unit ashore, which by the time was busy with its final combat patrols. F/O Mee and P/O Drummond had engaged 4 He 111’s over Narvik, each pilot claiming to have shot down one enemy aircraft. P/O Drummond attacked and damaged the other two.

On 8 June, the remaining seven Hurricanes left for Glorious, piloted by S/L Cross, F/L Stewart, F/O’s Cowles, Frost, and Mee, P/O Bunker and F/Sgt Chackley. They all made succesful deck landings.

The remainder of the officers and men embarked on the M/S Arandora Star.

Of the pilots onboard Glorious, only two men survived. S/L Cross and F/L Jameson were rescued some three days later from rafts and taken to the Faroe Isles.

The officers and men who had embarked on the M/S Arandora Star and other merchantmen, including my brother, arrived back at their home base of Digby on the morning of June 14, almost exactly a month after their departure to Norway. During the fateful weeks of this campaign, they have lost nine of their number and all their aircraft were gone.

Unknown to anyone at the time, the brave experience of No. 46 Squadron of starting and landing their fighters onboard HMS Glorious would prove pivotal for later employment of Sea Hurricanes and Seafires on Royal Navy ships.

Contemporary press news describing the sinking of HMS Glorious

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