HMS Pursuer

HMS Pursuer was an Attacker class escort carrier that served on convoy escort duty as well as taking part in the April 1944 attack on Tirpitz, the D-Day landings, the liberations of the south of France and of Greece, before ending the war with the East Indies Fleet. The Pursuer was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pescagoula (Mississippi). She was laid down as the merchant vessel Mormacland in July 1941, but completed as the USS St. George (CVE-17) on 14 June 1943 before being handed over to the Royal Navy. She differed from the rest of her class in having a more catapult, capable of launching an aircraft of up to 10,000lb at 60.8kts, compared to 7,000lb on the other ships.


During the third quarter of 1943 the Pursuer reached Britain, where she was fitted out to operate high-performance fighters. It was planned to send her out to the Far East to support assault forces.

On 30 October 1943 the 7th Naval Fighter Wing was formed with six squadrons, two each for the Emperor, Pursuer and Searcher. Pursuer was allocated Nos.881 and 896 Squadrons, with their Grumman Wildcats. The two squadrons embarked in November, and the Pursuer was then used as a specialist 'assault' carrier on the Gibraltar convoy route.


On 12 February 1944 the Pursuer was escorting convoy MKS.40 when a formation of seven German aircraft attacked half an hour after sunset. Four Wildcats were launched, preventing the attack on the convoy and demonstrating the value of escort carriers. One He.117 and one Fw.200 were claimed as destroyed and another Fw.200 as damaged.

HMS Pursuer, South of France, August 1944 HMS Pursuer, South of France, August 1944

On 3 April 1944 the Pursuer  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 Pursuer acted as a fighter carrier, operating Nos.881 and 896 Squadrons with their Wilcats. 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.

Fighter pilots of 896 Squadron, HMS Pursuer
Fighter pilots of 896 Squadron, HMS Pursuer

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

In June 1944 No.896 Squadron disbanded into No.881.

In June 1944 Pursuer, Tracker and Emperor provided fighter cover for support groups operating in the south west approaches, protecting the D-Day fleets against the threat of U-boat attack from the French Atlantic ports. Low cloud limited their activity, but on 9 June an aircraft from Pursuer shoot down a Junkers Ju 88 that was about to attack a Short Sunderland.

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 Pursuer formed part of Task Force 88.1, operating alongside Attacker, Khedive, Emperor and Searcher 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. No.811 Squadron operated its Wildcats from the Pursuer during the invasion, flying just under 200 sorties.

The British carriers were released on 28 August, and sailed to Alexandria for repairs and replenishment. They then took part in a series of operations designed to isolate German garrisons in the Aegean and Dodecanese, starting on 25 September. Pursuer wasn't involved for long, leaving Alexandria on 1 October to return to the UK for a refit.

On 14 November the Pursuer carried out an attack on Trondheim Leden, sinking one armed trawler and attacking a radar station at Titran.

Grumman Wildcats over HMS Pursuer Grumman Wildcats over HMS Pursuer

On 27 November the Pursuer, along with the Premier were meant to accompany HMS Implacable on a raid off the Norwegian coast, but arctic gales forced the two escort carriers to return home before the operation began.

During this period the Pursuer also took part in mine-laying operations off the Norwegian coast.

Towards the end of the year the Pursuer went to the Clyde for repairs, before accompanying convoy UC.48B across the Atlantic. She then went into docks at Norfolk for more repairs.


On 1 February 1945 No.1831 Squadron and its Corsairs joined the Pursuer with its Corsairs for the trip across the Altantic, disembarking at Eglinton in Northern Ireland on 18 February 1945. The Pursuer gained her own aircraft on 23 March when No.881 Squadron embarked with its Wildcat IVs, but that squadron left after the carrier arrived in Cape Town.

In the summer of 1945 the Pursuer was part of the East Indies Fleet, although didn’t take part in that fleet's main operations. Four single Bofors guns were added in July 1945. At the end of the war she transported No.898 Squadron back to the UK, arriving by December. The Pursuer was returned to the US Navy on 12 February 1946 and scrapped.


No.881 NAS

No.881 Squadron joined the Pursuer with its Wildcat Vs on 26 November 1943 as part of the 7th Naval Fighter Wing. The squadron remained onboard for Operation Tungsten (an attack on the Tirpitz), Operation Dragoon and operations in the Aegean. It spent the winter of 1944-45 back in the UK, with some time spent on a variety of carriers, before re-embarking on 23 March 1945 for the trip to the Far East. The squadron disembarked in the Far East to join the 12th Carrier Air Group.

No.896 NAS

No.896 Squadron joined the Pursuer with its Wildcats in November 1943, as part of the 7th Naval Fighter Wing. It took part in Operation Tungsten, before on 12 June 1944 disbanding into No.881 Squadron.

No.898 NAS

No.898 Squadron embarked on the Pursuer at the end of the war to return to the UK.

No.1831 NAS

No.1831 Squadron embarked on Pursuer with its Corsair IVs on 1 February 1945 and disembarked at Eglinton (Northern Ireland) on 18 February 1945

Displacement (loaded)

10,200t standard
14,170t deep load

Top Speed





491ft 7in to 496ft 1in oa


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



18 July 1942


14 June 1943

Returned to US


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 (26 August 2010), HMS Pursuer ,

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