HMS Searcher

HMS Searcher was an Attacker class escort carrier that spent most of her carrier operating off the Norwegian coast, although she also took part in the invasion of southern France and the liberation of Greece. The Searcher was built by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp, Seattle. She was completed in April 1943, and reached Britain by the summer of 1943, when she was in a British port converting to UK standards of construction and equipment.

1943

In the third quarter of 1943 she was being fitted out to operate high-performance fighters to support assault forces in the Far East, but her passage to the east would be delays so often that she arrived too late to take part in any operations.

On 30 October 1943 the 7th Naval Fighter Wing was formed with six squadrons, two each for the Emperor, Pursuer and Searcher. The Searcher received Nos.882 and 898 Squadrons, equipped with the Grumman Wildcat. Both squadrons joined the Searcher in December 1943. At this point the Searcher was used to escort North Atlantic convoys.

1944

HMS Indomitable
HMS Searcher

On 3 April 1944 the Searcher took part in Operation Tungsten, the most successful of a series of Fleet Air Arm attacks on the Tirpitz carried our during 1944. The main strike force came from the fleet carriers Furious and Victorious, while the Emperor acted as a fighter carrier, operating Nos.881 and 898 Squadrons with their Wildcats. The Tirpitz suffered a number of direct hits and was out of service for three months, while 438 of her crew were killed or wounded.

On 26 April the Searcher was part of a force including the Victorious, Furious, Emperor, Pursuer and Striker that attacked a south-bound convoy off Bödö, damaging all four merchant ships and one of the escorts. Five aircraft were lost.

On 6th, 8th, 14th, 15th May and 1 June 1944 aircraft from Victorious, Furious, Searcher, Striker and Emperor took part in a series of naval strikes off the Norwegian coast, sinking or seriously damaging six merchant ships, one escort vessel and two armed trawlers (all five carriers were not involved in all five attacks).

Searcher and Furious were involved in the attack on 6 May, attacking two southbound convoys off Molde. A 6,000 ton freight and a 5,000 ton tanker was claimed as sunk at a cost of two aircraft lost.

Emperor, Searcher and Striker took part in the attack on 8 May, against a northbound convoy off Kristiansund. Four Bv 138s and one Fw 200 were claimed as shot down during these operations.

Seven officers and men from Emperor and Searcher won awards for their part in Operation Hoops, the code name given to one of these attacks on the Norwegian coast.

In June 1944 the Searcher was used to cover a Gibraltar convoy. The same month also saw No.898 Squadron disband into No.882.

On 15 July Khedive, Pursuer, Searcher and Emperor sailed from the UK to join the existing force of escort carriers in the Mediterranean.

In August 1944 Searcher formed part of Task Force 88.1, operating alongside Attacker, Khedive, Pursuer and Emperor during Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France. Hunter and Stalker also formed part of Task Force 88, and between them the British carriers provided 166 fighter aircraft, suffering less than ten percent casualties to enemy action during the active period of the operation, which lasted from 15-23 August. An enlarged No.882 Squadron operated its Wildcats from the Searcher during the invasion, providing fighter-bomber and reconnaissance support for the American army.

The British carriers were released on 28 August, and sailed to Alexandria to repair and replenish, arriving in early September. In mid-September the Searcher left port to cover RAF and Naval operations to the west of Crete, which preceded the main naval operations in the Aegean and Dodecanese.

The Searcher was then meant to join the East India Fleet. She left Alexandria on 1 October to sail to the UK for a refit in the Clyde, sailing via Gibraltar and Belfast.

1945

The Searcher's refit was completed by January 1945. She then worked up with No.882 Squadron onboard, before going to Scapa Flow to collect No.746A Squadron and its Firefly night fighters. These aircraft were used in upcoming operations, and a report was submitted on their performance.

The Searcher took part in two anti-shipping strikes off Norway in March, Operations Prefix and Muscular. In the first, on 20 March, Premier, Queen and Searcher laided seven mines in Granesund. In the second Queen, Puncher, Searcher and Nairana sailed from Scapa Flow on 24 March, and on 26 March their aircraft searched the leads between Trondheim and Kristiansund. Avengers from the Queen attacked a 4,000-5,000 ton tanker and a minesweeper, while fighter aircraft from Search and Puncher provided an escort.

On 4 May Queen, Trumpeter and Searcher took part in the Home Fleet's last major combat operation of the war - Operation Judgement, an attack on the German U-boat base at Kilbotn in the Lofoten Islands, to the north of Narvik. This was a total success and resulting in the destruction of the depot ship SS Black Watch and the submarine U-771. The three carriers then escorted elements of the Home Fleet on their way to Copenhagen, which had been liberated by British airborne troops on 8 May.

After this attack the Searcher was finally free to join the East Indies Fleet, reaching Ceylon in June 1945. The war ended before she could join the active fleet.

The Searcher was returned to the US Navy late in 1945 and sold off as a merchantman.

Squadrons

No.746A NAS

No.746A Squadron joined the Searcher at Scapa Flow for a spell of deck landing training with its Night Fighter Fireflys.

No.882 NAS

No.882 Squadron joined the Searcher with its Martlet Vs in December 1943 as part of the 7th Naval Fighter Wing. No.898 merged into No.882 in June 1944. The enlarged squadron took part in Operation Dragoon in August 1944, when it flew 167 fighter-bomber and reconnaissance sorties. The squadron remained on the Searcher after her October 1944-January 1945 refit, and remained with her to the end of the war.

No.898 NAS

No.898 Squadron joined the Searcher with its Wildcat Vs as part of the 7th Naval Fighter Wing. It helped cover North Atlantic convoys and took part in Operation Tungsten, an attack on the Tirpitz, before in June 1944 disbanding into No.898 Squadron.

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

20 June 1942

Completed

8 April 1943

Returned to US

November 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 (31 August 2010), HMS Searcher , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_HMS_Searcher.html

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