HMS Theseus (R64)

HMS Theseus (R64) was a Colossus-class light fleet aircraft carrier
Aircraft carrier
An aircraft carrier is a warship designed with a primary mission of deploying and recovering aircraft, acting as a seagoing airbase. Aircraft carriers thus allow a naval force to project air power worldwide without having to depend on local bases for staging aircraft operations...

 of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. She was laid down in 1943 by Fairfield
Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company
The Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Limited was a British shipbuilding company in the Govan area on the Clyde in Glasgow. Fairfields, as it is often known, was a major warship builder, turning out many vessels for the Royal Navy and other navies through the First World War and the...

 at Govan
Govan is a district and former burgh now part of southwest City of Glasgow, Scotland. It is situated west of Glasgow city centre, on the south bank of the River Clyde, opposite the mouth of the River Kelvin and the district of Partick....

, and launched on 6 July 1944.

Workup and initial service

Theseus was laid down to serve in the Second World War, but was not completed before peace was declared in 1945. She was utilized as a training vessel until the outbreak of the Korean War.

In 1946, she embarked on workup and embarked aircraft, conducted trials, and a further work up for operational service. After preparation for duty in the Far East, she sailed to join the British Pacific Fleet
British Pacific Fleet
The British Pacific Fleet was a British Commonwealth naval force which saw action against Japan during World War II. The fleet was composed of British Commonwealth naval vessels. The BPF formally came into being on 22 November 1944...

 at Singapore as Flagship for the Flag Officer Air, Far East. In 1947, she deployed as the Flagship, 1st Aircraft Carrier Squadron with the British Pacific Fleet. On return to UK she refitted for service in Home Fleet. On completion, she joined the 3rd Aircraft Carrier Squadron, Home Fleet.

Korean War

In 1950, with the beginning of the Korean War
Korean War
The Korean War was a conventional war between South Korea, supported by the United Nations, and North Korea, supported by the People's Republic of China , with military material aid from the Soviet Union...

, Theseus was deployed to Korea
Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

, commencing standard carrier operations. Her first operation involved suppressing enemy defences and communications at Chinnampo, among other locations. Her second operational patrol involved only Combat Air Patrol
Combat air patrol
Combat air patrol is a type of flying mission for fighter aircraft.A combat air patrol is an aircraft patrol provided over an objective area, over the force protected, over the critical area of a combat zone, or over an air defense area, for the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile...

s (CAP), because her takeoff weight capacity was limited by a dysfunctional catapult, and thus the aircraft were unable to be armed with rockets and bombs. Her third operational duty was as part of a Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 Task Force. Theseus sailed with accompanying ships from Sasebo in Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

. The carrier's aircraft launched successful air strikes on bridges, North Korean troops and other opportune targets, mainly concentrating on the Chinnampo area, resulting in extreme chaos and heavy damage.

During her fourth operational patrol, which began in the middle of December 1950, aircraft from Theseus sighted and fired on 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 extensive with many vehicles being destroyed. Soon afterwards Chinese troops became the target of heavy attacks from the carrier's aircraft, which after the end of their fourth tour had completed 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
Osan is a city in Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, approximately 35 km south of Seoul. The population of the city is around 120,000. The local economy is supported by a mix of agricultural and industrial enterprises....

 in South Korea. On 15 January, the milestone of 1,000 accident-free landings on the Theseus was achieved. The Carrier Air Group (CAG) were awarded the Boyd Trophy
Boyd Trophy
The Boyd Trophy is a silver model of a Fairey Swordfish, which was presented by the Fairey Aviation Company Limited in 1946, in commemoration of the work for Naval Aviation of Admiral Sir Dennis Boyd, KCB, CBE, DSC RN...

 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, was interspersed with several major and minor accidents. On 26 January, an aircraft appeared almost to shudder, before spinning out of control and into the sea. The C-class destroyer
C class destroyer (1943)
The C class was a class of 32 destroyers of the Royal Navy that were launched from 1943 to 1945. The class was built in four flotillas of 8 vessels, the Ca, Ch, Co and Cr classes, ordered as the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th Emergency Flotillas respectively...

HMS Cossack (R57)
HMS Cossack was a Royal Navy C-class destroyer launched on 10 May 1944.She saw action at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War. On 18 May 1951, Cossack intercepted off Hainan, China. The ship was carrying a cargo of rubber bound for a Chinese port in contravention of a United Nations...

 made her way to the location of the crash but to no avail.
A second aircraft was hit a number of times by anti-aircraft gunfire, forcing the pilot to ditch the aeroplane in a valley, in an area near Tongduchon-ni. There he hid, awaiting rescue, for about ninety minutes. An American helicopter flew in and picked the pilot up, while other aircraft from Theseus flew a Close air patrol over the area . It was a scene reminiscent of The Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Bridges at Toko-Ri is a 1954 film based on a novel by James Michener about a naval aviator assigned to bomb a group of heavily defended bridges during the Korean War. It was made into a motion picture by Paramount Pictures and won the Special Effects Oscar at the 28th Academy Awards...

. On 2 February with a Sea Fury
Hawker Sea Fury
The Hawker Sea Fury was a British fighter aircraft developed for the Royal Navy by Hawker during the Second World War. The last propeller-driven fighter to serve with the Royal Navy, it was also one of the fastest production single piston-engined aircraft ever built.-Origins:The Hawker Fury was an...

 burst a tyre while landing, straining the fuselage, bring the number of accident free landings to an end at 1,463.

The seventh operational patrol started off badly when a squadron of Fairey Fireflies
Fairey Firefly
The Fairey Firefly was a British Second World War-era carrier-borne fighter aircraft and anti-submarine aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm ....

, after returning from a reconnaissance mission, experienced gun misfires, causing one fatality. Further similar missions were flown, as well as close air support
Close air support
In military tactics, close air support is defined as air action by fixed or rotary winged aircraft against hostile targets that are close to friendly forces, and which requires detailed integration of each air mission with fire and movement of these forces.The determining factor for CAS is...

 for the U.S. IX Corps in the Wonju
Wonju is the most populous city in Gangwon province, South Korea.Wonju is a city approximately east of Seoul and the capital can be reached within 1hr 30minutes by bus or train. Wonju is home to three major universities which attract many students from Seoul and elsewhere. They provide facilities...


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 with an aircraft crashed while returning to Theseus.

The ninth operational patrol opened with the shooting down of another aircraft at Suwon
Suwon is the provincial capital of Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. A major city of over a million inhabitants, Suwon lies approximately south of Seoul. It is traditionally known as "The City of Filial Piety"....

 on 24 March. 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
Sea of Japan
The Sea of Japan is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, between the Asian mainland, the Japanese archipelago and Sakhalin. It is bordered by Japan, North Korea, Russia and South Korea. Like the Mediterranean Sea, it has almost no tides due to its nearly complete enclosure from the Pacific...

, with the accompanying American carrier Bataan
USS Bataan (CVL-29)
USS Bataan , originally planned as USS Buffalo and also classified as CV-29, was an 11,000 ton Independence class light aircraft carrier which was commissioned in the United States Navy during World War II....

, together with an Allied destroyer screen, comprising HMS Consort, HMAS Bataan
HMAS Bataan (I91)
HMAS Bataan was a Tribal class destroyer of the Royal Australian Navy . Laid down in 1942 and commissioned in 1945, the destroyer was originally to be named Chingilli or Kurnai but was renamed prior to launch in honour of the US stand during the Battle of Bataan.Although not completed in time to...

, HMCS Huron
HMCS Huron (G24)
HMCS Huron G24/216 was a Tribal class destroyer built by Vickers-Armstrongs on the River Tyne in England, and served in the Royal Canadian Navy. It was the first ship to bear this name...

, USS English
USS English (DD-696)
USS English , an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, named for Rear Admiral Robert Henry English, a submariner who commanded the and was awarded the Navy Cross and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal...

 and USS Sperry
USS Sperry (AS-12)
USS Sperry was a in the United States Navy. She was named for Elmer Sperry.Sperry was laid down on 1 February 1941 at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California; launched on 17 December 1941, just 10 days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; sponsored by Mrs. Helen Sperry Lea, daughter...

. 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 which were performing nearby reconnaissance duties heard the call for assistance, however, while on the way there, one was shot down, the pilot being taken prisoner. Another aircraft searching for the first was shot down by flak, the pilot escaping capture.

Two more aircraft were shot down soon afterwards. The first landed only forty miles from the Theseus, damaged by flak and was soon rescued by helicopter. The second, again hit by flak, crashed initially into a paddy field but then skidded into a dry river bed. North Koreans troops peppered the aircraft with small arms fire. The remaining aircraft from the 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 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 the carrier's flight compliment was shot down. The downed pilot was rescued by an American helicopter
A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards, and laterally...

 pilot 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
Consul (representative)
The political title Consul is used for the official representatives of the government of one state in the territory of another, normally acting to assist and protect the citizens of the consul's own country, and to facilitate trade and friendship between the peoples of the two countries...

 in Seattle.

On 15 January 1952, the Allied task force operations ended with departure of the American carrier Bataan. Theseus herself continued operations in Korea, this time on the west coast. Due to engine failure, one aircraft from the "Theseus" was ditched', the pilot spending fifty five minutes in very choppy waters until being rescued. Two days later, operations from Theseus ended.

Theseus toured the harbour of Sasebo, before passing through the boom. The crews of the carriers Unicorn
HMS Unicorn (I72)
HMS Unicorn was a aircraft repair ship and light aircraft carrier built for the Royal Navy in the late 1930s. She was completed during World War II and provided air cover over the amphibious landing at Salerno, Italy in September 1943. The ship was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian...

 and Glory
HMS Glory (R62)
HMS Glory was a Colossus-class aircraft carrier of the Royal Navy laid down on 8 November 1942 by Stephens at Govan. She was launched on 27 November 1943 by Lady Cynthia Brookes, wife of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland...

, the latter her replacement and sister ship, 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
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 and one from the Royal Australian Navy
Royal Australian Navy
The Royal Australian Navy is the naval branch of the Australian Defence Force. Following the Federation of Australia in 1901, the ships and resources of the separate colonial navies were integrated into a national force: the Commonwealth Naval Forces...

. records that in late 1951 Theseus joined the Home Fleet as Flagship, 2nd Aircraft Carrier Squadron. In 1952, she became Home Fleet Flagship, and then was detached to the Mediterranean to relieve her sister ship HMS Glory
HMS Glory
Ten ships of the Royal Navy have been named HMS Glory, or the French variant HMS Gloire: was a 44-gun fifth rate, formerly the French 44-gun ship La Gloire, captured from the French in 1747, and was sold to be broken up in 1763. was a 32-gun fifth rate launched in 1763. She was renamed HMS Apollo...

 for service with the United Nations' effort off Korea. She took part in joint exercises in Mediterranean with Home Fleet ships.

Suez Crisis

In 1956, Theseus was used as an emergency commando carrier, along with her sister-ship Ocean
HMS Ocean (R68)
HMS Ocean was a Royal Navy Colossus-class light fleet aircraft carrier of 13,190 tons built in Glasgow by Alexander Stephen and Sons. Her keel was laid in November 1942, and she was commissioned on 30 June 1945....

, during the Suez Crisis
Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...

. From November to December, helicopters from Theseus transported troops ashore, as well as returning wounded soldiers to ship. 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
Inverkeithing is a town and a royal burgh in Fife, Scotland, located on the Firth of Forth. According to population estimates , the town has a population of 5,265. The port town was given burgh status by King David I of Scotland in the 12th century and is situated about 9 miles north from...

in 1962.

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