Update: HMS Illustrious Gunnery Report for January 10th-19th, 1941

Thanks to the donation of a document by Duncan Munro, I have been able to transcribe and reproduce here a copy of the Captain's official gunnery report for HMS Illustrious in relation to the Operation Excess action.

It makes particularly fascinating reading given the context that this was one of the first - certainly the first large-scale - dive bombing attacks on a warship in World War II. It was also the most intense anti-aircraft action of the war to that point.

READ THE REPORT HERE

Critique: From David Anderson

THIS IS MY REBUTTAL TO THE COMMENT THAT “THE AMERICAN CARRIERS WERE MORE VULNERABLE TO KAMIKAZE ATTACK THAN THEIR BRITISH COUNTERPARTS,” FROM THE MAN WHO ONCE WAS WHIZZER WHITE BY DENIS J. HUTCHINSON (THE FREE PRESS, NEW YORK:1998), PAGE 190.


By David Anderson 


   My first reaction to Mr. Hutchinson’s text was, “Why bring this up now?  You haven’t written about this before, but you choose to make an issue of it at this point!”

   Yes, British carriers had armored (armoured) flight decks.  The American (and American-built) carriers had a thin metal deck that supported the wooden flight deck.  But this is only one side of the controversy.

   The U. S. Navy’s point of view was that their aircraft carriers had more airplanes, which could be refueled more times, before having to meet the service force.  Consequently, the USN carrier could stay on station for a longer time, fly more sorties, and do more damage to the enemy before having to replenish aviation fuel, ship’s fuel, aircraft, pilots, and food...     

READ THE FULL REBUTTAL HERE

Update: HMS Formidable Damage Reports for May 9, 1945

I have transcribed two documents from ADM 267/87 relating to the kamikaze attack on HMS Formidable on May 9, 1945.

These are the Action Damage Report and Repair of Damage Report issued by the ship in the days following the attack.

Two pictures found bundled loosely in the file which match the circumstances of this have been included (They show Formidable'd damaged deck with only Corsairs on deck. The May 4 attack involved Corsairs and Avengers)

See the document page here

Review: The Disastrous Fall and Triumphant Rise of the Fleet Air Arm

$30.06

Wow.

Just finished reading The Disastrous Fall and Triumphant Rise of the Fleet Air Arm by Henry 'Hank' Adlam.

Talk about a brutally honest assessment.

And, coming from someone who was there and whom the politics, policies and doctrines of the time directly affected, it is particularly relevant and insightful.

While some specifics have become hazy in this former FAA pilots mind after so much time (For example, Seafires only had eight .303s in the test conversions, and he merges HMS Formidable's accidental hangar fire into a kamakaze strike), the context he provides and establishes is invaluable and invariably missing from most academic accounts.

It's a deep and personal review of the consequences of command, bureaucracy, innovation and courage.

His telling of the disastrous abrogation of fleet air responsibility in the 1920s and 1930s screams its relevance now that history has repeated... (Yes, barely six weeks after decommissioning the last RN Harrier carrier, Britain had to go to France cap-in-hand for carrier air support against Gadhaffi!)

And who believes the RN will actually get to keep its aircraft-less super carriers? And will the F-35Bs they're supposed to carry live up to their advertising hype? And given the experience and impending expensive refit of the purpose-built F-35 Marine carrier "America", can the equally purpose-built "Queen Elizabeth" even fly the type?

As Hank would no doubt say: The "Penguins" of the 20s and 30s seem to be back in command.

Can it be overcome? Well, that too has been done before - as Hank so clearly details.

Politics aside - read this book.

It will put all you already know about the FAA into awesome perspective.

 

Review: Crowood Aviation Series Junkers Ju87 Stuka

I had hoped this would contain as much detail and discussion as that of the Crowood Aviation Series Seafire book.

Almost.

Unfortunately, the degree of detail as to Stuka performance, bomb loads and operational ranges are just as lacking as in all other publications dealing with the Ju87.

It does, however, contains plenty of tantalising tidbits, such as

"About twenty feet of the wing of a Ju87 fell on the after lift (of ILLUSTRIOUS). Aircraft assumed to have crashed. A Ju87 was seen to fall into the sea by the Chaplain and another crashed into the sea just astern of one Swordfish on A/S patrol"

Frustratingly, this is not clearly attributed. But I will try and find a full copy of the document they do reference -  "Report of Air Attacks on HMS Illustrious during Operation MC4, 26 January, 1941" (0404/427/172, No. 3320/0197, AIR2/ 4221). It seems to contain different details to that of the Captain's report and Damage Report reproduced here on this website.

It also sticks with the 500kg (1100lbs) definition of every bomb which hit every armoured carrier in the Mediterranean ... despite quoting direct from reports which clearly state otherwise (HMS Formidable's Damage Report, for example). The authors do not give any reason for this (perhaps they know the Stuka B-2's limits and therefore take the 500kg load for granted?)

Overall, Excellent.

Review: Nelson to Vanguard

NELSON TO VANGUARD

Warship Design and Development 1923 - 1945

By RN Deputy Chief Naval Architect D. K. Brown

This book is an amazing and deep dive into Royal Navy design development, testing and war experience. Written by a naval architect with unique insight into the performance of RN ships, it is one of the books I will now automatically turn to for insight.

However, Brown - like most others - did not delve deep into the armoured carrier's damage reports.

He perpetuates the editing error in Friedman's "British Naval Aviation" which misplaces the 1945 kamikaze armoured spalling event in the 1941 attack off Crete (think about it - how can the central deck armour spall from hits in the extreme bow and stern?)

Also, his much cited Appendix 13 summary of kamikaze damage is based on a single Pacific Fleet report, dated from May 1945 (therefore likely compiled only days after the final attacks). As such, the full nature of the attacks - particularly the three upon Formidable and Indefatigable - are not appreciated. (That report also states: "Without armoured decks, TF57 would have been out of action for at least 2 months." 

Regardless, this book - as an incredible overview of RN design doctrine - is an absolute "Read Now".

Update: HMS Illustrious Damage Report pictures added

After re-reading the fine-print of my purchase of copies of the Illustrious' 1941 Damage Report, it is clear that I am actually able to reproduce them here as Crown copyright has expired and they do not belong to third party.

As such, I have added the photo attachments from this report to the full Admiralty Damage Report (Bomb & Shell) as well as scatter them through the Damage Overview and Malta Refuge pages.

 

I will add similar pages / photos to the Indomitable and Formidable battle damage pages in the coming days.

Update: Battle Damage drawings

A set of 11 original battle damage drawings (or components thereof) for Illustrious (1941), Formidable (1941) and Indomitable (1942) have now been uploaded to the relevant Document (ADM) pages reproducing their official reports.

A further five plans for Indomitable (stitched together from non-professional photographs) have also been attached to the Indomitable Admiralty bomb damage document.  

 

Update: Video of kamikaze attacks on BPF

I've found an Australian War Memorial video package on the BPF which includes wobbly and poorly aligned footage of the kamikaze attacks upon HMS Formidable and HMS Indomitable. Clearly the video editor did not realise that more than one carrier had been attacked on May 4 - he intercut the very brief piece of footage of the kamikaze sliding off Indomitable's deck between scenes showing the attack run, and aftermath, on Formidable.

The Formidable footage shows a kamikaze diving from astern but pulling up away from the crowded deck. The second Formidable cut, from the same distance and angle,  shows a kamikaze slamming into the deck from a stern approach.

The Indomitable footage shows the ship, with a clean flight deck, at a greater distance and more acute angle than the Formidable footage. The kamikaze is clearly hit and begins to burn moments before impact.

Despite the tight - inaccurate - cuts, it is fascinating footage. Clearly the reason it has not been widely used is the exorbitant cost of obtaining digitised footage from the AWM. According to their guidelines, the 3 minutes of footage here will cost in excess of $5400 (3 minutes at $30 per second)!

Footage of the British Pacific Fleet off Sakishima Gunto, with clips of attacks by kamikaze's upon HMS Formidable and HMS Indomitable.


Emden v. Sydney: Special presentation

Something I wrote for the office.

NARRATIVE: 'Sink the Emden: Australia's titanic first victory at sea'

Didn't get enough time to integrate this newly digitised 1920s newsreel covering the famous action:

The NFSA is marking the centenary of Australia's first victory at sea, when the HMAS Sydney defeated the SMS Emden on 9 November 1914, with the publication of the 1931 silent film Sea Raider. The first film about this battle, Unsere Emden, was made in Germany in 1926.


Update: Report of Proceedings from Commanding Officers

I have added from the British National Archive the following Admiralty documents:

ADM 267/ 83 REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS FROM COMMANDING OFFICER, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS - 1941 

ADM 199/810: REPORT OF PROCEEDINGS FROM COMMANDING OFFICER, HMS FORMIDABLE - 1941

While these reports are not as accurate as the later Admiralty Damage Reports (Bomb and Shell), they do provide details not reproduced there as well as an insight to the process of compiling an accurate representation of action events and damage details.

They also help explain the errors and discrepancies in many accounts of the above actions. Many academics and authors have placed their full faith in these initial reports, made days after the events, and did not examine the more considered and studied Admiralty damage reports compiled up to a year afterwards.