HMS Hunter

HMS Hunter was an Attacker class escort carrier that took part in the Salerno landings in 1943 and Operation Dragoon and the liberation of Greece in 1944 before joining the East Indies Fleet in 1945. The Hunter took the name of a destroyer sunk during the first battle of Narvik on 10 April 1940. The new escort carrier was launched in May 1942 by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pescagoula (Mississippi), and commissioned in January 1943.

1943

Early in 1943 the Hunter was used to ferry USAAF aircraft to North Africa. Hunter and Stalker then escorted a convoy to the UK, driving off one Fw 200. On her arrival in the UK she began a refit to prepare her fully for service in the Royal Navy. This was completed by June and in July the Hunter's crew were undergoing intense training in preparation for a move to the Mediterranean. In the same month she picked up No.834 Squadron with a mix of Swordfish and Seafires. She was then used to escort a convoy to Gibraltar, arriving in August.

HMS Hunter in the Aegean
HMS Hunter
in the Aegean

The Hunter took part in Operation Avalanche, the naval part of the Salerno landings, forming part of Force V alongside the escort carriers Attacker, Battler and Stalker and the support carrier Unicorn, while the fleet carriers Illustrious and Formidable formed Force H. The escort carriers reached Gibraltar from the Clyde on 9 August, where they picked up their fighters - in the case of the Battler the Seafires of No.899 Squadron and a flight from No.834 Squadron. The carriers left Gibraltar on 8 September, and spent four days of Salerno, from 9 to 12 September. During this period Force V provided close air support for the landings, suffering heavy losses from accidents to the fragile Seafires. The aircraft moved onshore for operations on 13-14 September, rejoining their carriers after these two days.

The Hunter returned to home waters after the end of Operation Avalanche, taking No.807 and 808 Squadrons with her.

1944

After spending the winter of 1943-44 in home waters Hunter was sent back to the Mediterranean in the spring of 1944, reaching Gibraltar on 26 May 1944 alongside Stalker and Attacker. 30% of her aircraft were then lent to the Tactical Air Force in Italy to gain combat experience.

In August 1944 the Hunter took part in Operation Dragoon, operating as part of Task Force 88.2 alongside the Stalker, USS Tulagi and USS Kasaan Bay. Emperor, Attacker, Khedive, Pursuer and Searcher formed Task Force 88.1. During this operation the British carriers provided 166 fighters, losing less than 10% to enemy activity between 15-23 August. No.807's Seafires operated from the Hunter during this operation.

The escort carriers were released on 28 August and sailed to Alexandria for repairs and replenishment, arriving in September 1944. Late in September the Hunter left Alexandria to take part in Operations Outing, Cablegram and Contempt, a series of operations designed to isolate the German garrisons in the Aegean and Dodecanese. On 9 October aircraft from the Hunter destroyed two trains at Salonika, sunk a Siebel ferry and damaged another off the Cassandra peninsula, before on 10 October attacking the harbours of Syra, Port Laki (Leros) and Kos.

After the campaign in Greece the Hunter departed for the UK to undergo a refit, although this eventually took place at Malta during December 1944. After the refit she departed for the Far East.

1945

In February 1945 the Hunter reached Trincomalee (with No.807 Squadron's Seafires), where it joined No.21 Aircraft Carrier Squadron of the East Indies Fleet.

Six British escort carriers were involved in Operations Bishop and Dracula, a long-planned amphibious invasion of Rangoon. Hunter formed part of the escort to the main assault convoy, alongside Khedive, Stalker and Emperor. This convoy left port on 30 April, and made an unopposed landing at the start of May. So little opposition was encountered that the carriers were released on 4 May, and carried out a series of attacks on the Tenasserim coast before bad weather intervened on 6 May.

While returning from Operation Bishop a destroyer accompanying the Shah and Empress detected radio messages from the Japanese heavy cruiser Haguro. These transmissions ended before any strike could be launched, and on 9 May the carriers returned to port.

While this close encounter was underway Japanese signals were intercepted and broken. This revealed that the cruiser Haguro would be returning to sea to travel to Port Blair on the Andaman Islands to cover the evacuation of the garrison, staying there for the night of 12-13 May and then returning to Singapore. Shah, Empress, Khedive and Hunter put back to sea as Force 61 in an attempt to intercept the cruiser (Operation Dukedom). This time the Japanese were caught. Aircraft from No.851 Squadron attacked the cruiser on 15 May, although without inflicting any insignificant damage. On the following day the destroyers of Force 63 caught the cruiser and hit her with a number of torpedoes. The Haguro apparently escaped from the trap, but sank on the following day.

On 17 August Shah, Attacker, Hunter and Stalker formed part of a fleet that left Trincomalee to support the occupation of Penang (Operation Jurist), which was completed without any opposition.

When the war ended the British were close to carrying out a major invasion of Malaya and Singapore, Operation Zipper. It was decided to conduct this operation as if it were an opposed landing, and seven escort carriers were allocated to the attacking force. Hunter formed part of Force 65, with Attacker, Stalker and Begum, while Empress, Emperor and Khedive formed Force 64. The operation began on 10 September and saw 100,000 troops land against minimal resistance, while on 11 September most of the fleet entered Singapore.

The Hunter was returned to the US Navy on 29 December 1945 and sold as a merchantman.

Squadrons

No.807 NAS

No.807 Squadron first embarked on the Hunter to return home from the Salerno landings late in 1943. It was back onboard with its Seafires for Operation Dragoon in August 1944 and to join No.21 Aircraft Carrier Squadron of the East Indies Fleet in February 1945.

No.808 NAS

The Hunter ferried No.808 Squadron home from the Mediterranean after the Salerno landings

No.834 NAS

No.834 Squadron and its Seafires and Swordfish embarked on the Hunter in July 1943. At Gibraltar the squadron split with the Swordfish forming 834Z Squadron on Gibraltar while the Seafires stayed onboard to take part in Operation Avalanche. The squadron regrouped on Battler on 7 September 1943.

No.899 NAS

No.899 Squadron's Seafires were onboard Hunter for Operation Avalanche in September 1943 after their normal carrier, the Illustrious, was damaged during the invasion of Sicily.
No.1700 NAS

No.1700 Squadron was formed as an amphibian bomber-reconnaissance equipped with the Walrus and Sea Otter. It travelled to the Far East on Khedive between 8 January and 8 February 1945 and then dispersed onto Stalker, Hunter, Emperor, Ameer, Attacker, Shah and Khedive, performing mine-sweeping and search and rescue duties. It returned to shore bases at the end of the war.

Displacement (loaded)

10,200t standard
14,170t deep load

Top Speed

18.5kts

Range

 

Length

491ft 7in to 496ft 1in oa

Armaments

18-24 aircraft
Two 4in/50 US Mk 9 guns in one two-gun mounting
Eight 40mm Bofors guns in four two-gun mountings

Crew complement

646

Launched

22 May 1942

Completed

11 January 1943

Returned to US

December 1945

Fleet Air Arm Carrier Warfare, Kev Darling. A complete history of the Fleet Air Arm's use of aircraft carriers, from the earliest experiments during the First World War, through the Second World War, where the carriers became the most important capital ships in the navy, the Korean War, which saw the Fleet Air Arm involved from the beginning to the end, the Falklands War, which re-emphasised the important of the carrier and right up to the current 'super-carriers'. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 August 2010), HMS Hunter , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Hunter.html

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