HMS Theseus (R64)

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, and launched on 6 July 1944. She was not commissioned, though, until 1946, too late to be involved in World War II. Upon her commission, she was used as a training ship.


In 1950, with the beginning of the Korean War, "Theseus" was deployed to Korea, for the type of operations that had been envisaged for her when the ship had been ordered during World War II. Her first operation involved suppressing enemy defences and communications at Chinnampo and other areas. Her second operational patrol involved only CAP (Combat Air Patrol), because her catapult did not work, 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" sailed with accompanying ships from Sasebo in Japan. The carrier's aircraft launched successful air strikes on bridges, North Korean troops and other opportunity targets, mainly concentrating on the Chinnampo area and creating much damage and chaos.

During her fourth operational patrol, which began in the middle of December 1950, aircraft from "Theseus" sighted numerous land vehicles in the north of the separated country, in what was a typical 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", which after the end of their fourth tour had chalked up over 1,630 hours in the air and 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 Lieutenant 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 aircrew, not to mention the ship itself.

The sixth operational patrol, which commenced in late January, involved a tragic incident. On 26 January, an aircraft flown by Lieutenant A. C. Bevan appeared almost to shudder, before spinning out of control and into the sea. The C-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 but, 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 about ninety minutes. An American helicopter soon flew in, picking the Lieutenant up, while other aircraft from "Theseus" flew a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) over the area, in case of attack by North Koreans. It was a scene reminiscent of "The Bridges at Toko-Ri", though fortunately no casualties were incurred. Another dubious distinction of the sixth operational tour came on 2 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. Fairey Fireflies, after returning from reconnaissance missions stretching 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 familiar area of Chinnampo to Kuhsa-Sung to create the illusion of an imminent amphibious assault. Two more crashes occurred, the first incurring no casualties, but the second proving 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 saw no survivors.

The ninth operational patrol began 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 armour-piercing bullet that 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 manoeuvring, escaped unhurt. Two other Sea Furies who were performing nearby 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 shot 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 pilot's 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 Consulate in Seattle.

On 15 January 1952, the Allied task force operations ended, when the American carrier "Bataan" departed. "Theseus" herself continued operations this time on the west coast of Korea. On 17 January, a Lieutenant Hamilton, due to engine failure, ditched his aircraft convert|60|nmi|km|0 from "Theseus", spending fifty five minutes in very choppy waters until being rescued. Two days later, operations from "Theseus" ended, after a 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 their duties with courage and professionalism.

In 1956, "Theseus" was used as an emergency commando carrier, along with her sister-ship "Ocean", during the Suez Crisis 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 at Suez was relatively quiet. The following year she was placed in reserve. A rather brief but eventful career truly ended when she was broken up at Inverkeithing in 1962.

External links

* [ Maritimequest HMS Theseus photo gallery]

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