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HMS Theseus (R64)
HMS Theseus (R64) was a Colossus-class light fleet aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy. She was laid down in 1943 by Fairfield at Govan, being launched on 6 July 1944. She was not commissioned though until 1946 too late to be involved in World War II. She was upon her commission, used as a training ship.
In 1950, with the beginning of the Korean War, saw Theseus deploy to Korea for the type of operations that had been envisaged for her, when the ship had been ordered during WWII. Her first operation involved suppressing enemy defences and communications at Chinnampo and other areas. Her second operational patrol involved only CAP (Combat Air Patrol), due to her catapult being inoperable, and thus the aircraft were unable to be armed with rockets and bombs. Her third operational duty was as part of a Commonwealth Task Force. Theseus with accompanying ships sailed from Sasebo in Japan. The carriers aircraft launched successful air strikes on bridges, North Korean troops and other opportunity targets, creating much damage and chaos, mainly concentrating on the Chinnampo area.
During her fourth operational patrol, which begun in the middle of December 1950, aircraft from Theseus sighted numerous land vehicles in the north of the separated country, in what was a quintessential winter scene, with heavy snow covering the area. The destruction was tremendous, with many vehicles, from jeeps to tanks and trucks, being destroyed. Soon afterwards Chinese troops became the target of ferocious attacks from aircraft flying off the Theseus, who after the end of their fourth tour had chalked up over 1,630 hours in the air, and astonishingly, fired over 1,400 rockets.
The next year, on 5 January 1951, Theseus commenced her fifth operational patrol, supporting the American 25th Division, who were fighting south of Osan in South Korea. On 15 January, a Lietenant Highett landed to create an astonishing milestone of 1,000 accident-free landings on Theseus. The CAG (Carrier Air Group) were awarded the Boyd Trophy for a remarkable operational tour of duty that included many firsts for pilots and aircew, not to mention the ship itself.
The sixth operational patrol commenced in late January which involved a tragic incident. On 26 January, an aircraft flown by Lieutenant A. C. Bevan, appeared to almost shudder, before spinning out of control and into the sea. The Tribal-class destroyer, and World War II veteran, Cossack made her way to the location of the crash but to no avail. Another pilot was shot down soon afterwards, though compared to the tragedy of the former, was far more fortunate.
The aircraft was flown by Lieutenant Keighley-Peach and was hit a number of times by anti-aircraft gunfire, forcing him to ditch the aeroplane into a valley, in an area near Tongduchon-ni . There he hid, awaiting rescue for what must of seemed an eternity, where in reality was about ninety minutes. An American helicopter soon flew in, picking the Lieutenant up, while other aircraft from Theseus flew a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) over the area, incase of attack by North Koreans. It was a scene almost plucked from The Bridges at Toko-Ri, though fortunately no casualties were incurred. Another dubious distinction of the sixth operational tour came on the 2nd February with a landing that halted what would have been the 1,464th accident-free landing, when a Sea Fury burst a tyre while landing, straining the fuselage at the undercarriage attachment points.
The seventh operational patrol started off tragically. Fairy Fireflies , after returning from reconnaissance missions, streching from Seoul to Pyongyang and other areas, landed with three of the Fireflies guns accidentally firing, one fatally wounding Petty Officer Airman J. F. Wigley. He was buried at sea the following day with full Naval Honours. Further reconnaissance missions were flown, as well as CAS (Close Air Support) for IX Corps in the Wonju area.
The eighth operational patrol, beginning on 4 March 1951, saw much of the same, with patrols over the now familar area of Chinnampo to Kuhsa-Sung to create the illusion of an imminent amphibious assault. Two more crashes occurred, the first incurred no casualties, though the second proved to be fatal. During armed reconnaissance near Chanyong , Lieutenant G. H. Cooles and Flight Lieutenant D. W. Guy, both from the RAF, crashed while returning to Theseus. A number of Sea Furies proceeded to fly a CAP over the crash site but sighted no survivors.
The ninth operational patrol begun and just days after the start, on 24 March, another aircraft was shot down. Lieutenant-Commander Gordon-Smith's aeroplane was shot down by an armoured piercing bullet, which damaged his fuel tank, leaving him no other option but to land at Suwon. Further reconnaissance and CAS missions were flown, including an attack on six enemy vessels.
The tenth operational patrol began on 8 April operating in the Sea of Japan, with the accompanying American carrier Bataan, together with an Allied destroyer screen, comprising HMS Consort , HMAS Bataan, HMCS Huron , USS English and USS Sperry . On 10 April, two Sea Furies were attacked by American Corsairs in a friendly-fire incident. One Sea Fury was seriously damaged, the other, after much manouevering escaped unhurt. Two other Sea Furies who were performing near-by reconnaissance duties heard the call for assistance and while on the way there, pilot H.Johnson's aircraft was shot down. He was believed dead, until it was later found out that he had been taken prisoner. Another pilot, Lieutenant E. Julian, who was searching for Johnson's aircraft was shot down by flak. Luckily, the Lieutenant escaped.
Two more aircraft were show down soon afterwards. The first was shot down forty miles from Theseus by flak and was soon rescued by helicopter. The second, again hit by flak, crashed initially into a paddy field but then skidded straight into a dry river bed. North Koreans troops peppered his aircraft with small arms fire. The remaining aircraft from his flight acted as a RESCAP (Rescue Close Air Patrol) while a further two Sea Furies escorted a helicopter en-route to the downed pilots location. After a tense thirty eight minutes, the pilot, severely injured, was rescued.
Further successful strikes were launched on numerous North Korean targets. During these strikes another aircraft from Theseus was shot down. The downed pilot, Lieutenant Bowman , was rescued by the American helicopter pilot Lieutenant Roger Gill who was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for successfully carrying out a courageous rescue despite heavy small arms fire from North Korean troops. He was awarded the honour at the British Consul in Seattle.
On 15 January 1952, the Allied task force operations came to an end, when the American carrier Bataan departed. Theseus herself continued operations this time on the west coast of Korea. On 17 January, a Lieutenant Hamilton ditched his aircraft 60 miles from Theseus, spending an astonishing fifty five minutes in very choppy waters until being rescued. Two days later, operations from Theseus came to an end, after an astonishing and brave series of patrols that at times culminated in tragedy.
Theseus toured the harbour of Sasebo, before passing through the boom. The crews of the carriers Unicorn and Glory, the latter her replacement for the patrols that she had undertook, and of the same class as her, manned the sides, cheering Theseus on as she departed, the crew of Theseus doing the same. During the Korean War, six Commonwealth carriers operated throughout the conflict, five from the Royal Navy and one from the Royal Australian Navy, each performing whatever duty they were given to them with courage and professionalism.
In 1956, Theseus was used as an emergency commando carrier, along with her sister-ship Ocean, during the Suez operations from November to December. Helicopters from Theseus transported troops ashore, as well as returning wounded soldiers to Theseus. Compared to her actions during the Korean War, her role in the Suez Operations were relatively quiet. The following year she was placed in reserve. A rather brief but eventful career truly came to an end when she was broken up at Inverkeithing in 1962.
See HMS Theseus for other ships of this name.
- Displacement: 13,400 tons
- Length: 695 feet
- Beam: 80 feet
- Draught: 23.5 feet
- Speed: 25 knots
- Compliment: 1,300
- Aircraft: 48
- Propulsion: Steam Turbines 4 Admiralty 3-drum boilers, Parsons geared turbines
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