INDEX OF NAVAL
Light Fleet Carrier
When the First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Stanhope, was asked to select
a name for a new aircraft carrier he ichose the name Unicorn, not realising
that the name was already in use by a wooden frigate built in 1824. To
avoid embarrassment, the Frigate's name was changed to Unicorn II in 1939,
and in 1941 she became HMS Cressy when it was found that having two ships
named Unicorn created great confusion with mail and drafting. In 1959,
after the aircraft carrier had been scrapped, the Frigate was renamed HMS
Unicorn by Mrs Keay, widow of Captain WF Keay who had commanded Unicorn
throughout the war.
HMS Unicorn was initially operational in March till October 1943, with aircraft from the Fleet Air Arm units: 800 Sea hurricanes, 818 swordfish, 824 swordfish, 887 seafire, 897 spitfire, 885 seafire squadrons. She saw service in the Atlantic, Norway and the Mediterranean.
HMS Unicorn was completed in 1943, in time to join the Escort carriers
of Force V,
tasked to provide the fighter cover for both fleet and forces ashore in the first 24 hours following the landings at Salerno. In the event, it was nearly four days before the capture of an airfield ashore could relieve the force of the responsibility, during which time the combination of the carrier's low speed and small decks while operating in near windless conditions, wrote off over 40 Supermarine Seafire fighters in deck accidents alone. The Unicorn's 6-kt speed advantage and larger deck prevented even more losses.
On 24 March 1943, aircraft from 800, 818 and 824 squadrons embarked in HMS Unicorn for deck landing training in the Clyde and A/S operations around UK waters, disembarking to Machrihanish on the 13 May 1943. On 8 June, 1943 they re-embarked in HMS Unicorn, attached to the Home Fleet, and carried out a sweep to the north of Norway with HMS Illustrious, during which, the Martlets of the two carriers shot down two Bf 138's without further attacks from the enemy, and returning safely early in July 1943, her squadrons disembarking to Machrihanish.
In late August 1943, Unicorn was part of Force H, provided support and air cover along with the carriers HMS Illustrious and HMS Formidable in the Salerno Allied landings on mainland Italy. An American CVL and 4 escort carriers provided air cover. This contrasted with the Anzio landings that followed in early September which were done without carrier support and received heavy casualties. HMS Uganda, HMS Warspite and USS Savannah badly damaged by glider bombs, and the destroyer USS Rowan sunk by MTBs.
HMS Unicorn then reverted to supply and repair duties, for aircraft
repair and transport, and fleet backup and support. By early 1944, Unicorn
was in the Far East, still doubling as operational carrier pending the
delayed arrival of the Victorious. During this time she maintained a squadron
of Fairey Barracuda, from November 1944-January 1945 with 817 squadron.
During December 1944, HMS Unicorn was busy in establishing the MONABs in
Australia. An advance party of MONAB II was landed from Unicorn that month,
arriving at RAAF Bankstown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Unloaded
from the carrier were 16 crated aircraft, 8 Corsair IIs & 8 Martinet
TT.Is from the RN Aircraft Depot at Cochin, S. India, these were
to be assembled by the advance party, with RAAF assistance.
Gloster Meteors for 77 RAAF Squadron in Korea, on the flight deck of HMS Unicorn, Singapore 1951
Laid up for several years after the war, she was reactivated for the Korean War. Between June 1950 and October 1953, HMS Unicorn filled a vital support role to the Royal Navy and Commonwealth Aircraft carriers in Korean waters and on several occassions accompanied the operational carrier to the forward area, flying her own aircraft and acting as a spare deck. On one occasion she engaged enemy positions in North Korea with her own 4inch guns, thereby becoming more closely engaged than any of the other carriers.
Unicorn was sold for scrap in June 1959, and was stripped at Dalmuir and hull broken up at Troon from March 1960.
Atlantic, Norway and the Mediterranean.
No information on Captains.
Squadrons and Aircraft
When Unicorn was engaged on operations in 1943:
March 1943 12 Sea Hurricane;
May 1943 18 Fairey Swordfish;
July 1943 13 Fairey Swordfish, 10 Supermarine Seafire;
September 1943 various detachments; 12 Supermarine Seafire,
3 Fairey Swordfish - or 10 Supermarine Seafire, 8/9 Grumman Martlets - or 6/10 Supermarine Seafire
FAA squadrons embarked Dates Aircraft type 800 March-April 1943 Sea Hurricane IIc 824 March-July 1943 Swordfish II 818 March 1943-Feb 1944 Swordfish II 887 April-Oct 1943 Seafire IIc 897 Aug 1943 Spitfire Vb 885 dt Sept-Oct 1943 Seafire IIc 817 Nov 1944-Jan 1945 Barracuda II
Associations and Reunions
HMS Unicorn Association
Contact: E.Bosworthick, membership/Social secretary, 3 Arundel Close, Adeyfield, Hemel Hempstead, Herts. HP2 4QR.Tel: 01442 255821. (2001)
Carrier name HMS Unicorn I72 Class Unicorn Type Light Fleet Aircraft Carrier Ships in Class Launched Harland & Wolff 12/3/43 Scrapped 1960 Tonnage 20300 tons, 16510 tons, 3790 tons Engines 4 x Admirality 3-drum boilers; 4 x Parsons geared steam turbines @ 40000 hp, 4 shafts Speed in Knots 24 Armament Gun 4 x 2 x 4" AA 3 x 4 x 2pdr pom-pom AA 2 x 2 x , 8 x 1 x 20mm Oerlikon AA Crew Complement 1000 Officers & Ratings Range Length (ft/inches) 640' Beam (ft/inches) 90.25' Draught (ft/inches) 23' maximum Flight Deck length (ft/inches) Flight Deck width (ft/inches) Armour Number of aircraft carried up to 36 Fate of carrier Harland & Wolff 12/3/43 Scrapped 1960 Notes
FURTHER INFORMATION HMS Unicorn in Naval Forces of World War II website Includes photo, specifications and brief history HMS Unicorn, in Britain's small wars website Between June 1950 and October 1953, HMS Unicorn filled a vital support role to the Royal Navy and Commonwealth Aircraft carriers in the Korean War. 824 naval air squadron - The Fleet Air Arm Photography Archive, AUGUST 1943 – SEPTEMBER 1944 Website of 824 squadron and its wartime history by one of its veteran airmen, Gordon GF White, "But my friends call me Knocker". Mobile Naval airfields - MONAB history website Detailed History of the Mobile Naval airfields of the Royal Navy in WWII History and technical details. Unicorn class Maintenence
H.M. Frigate UNICORN Dundee, Scotland. The World's most original Wooden Warship Website of the original Frigate UNICORN, of 46 guns, which was built for the Royal Navy in Chatham dockyard, and launched in 1824 and now preserved in Dundee. World Aircraft Carrier Lists and Photo Gallery - from 1913 to 2000. Naval History Information Center, Haze Gray & Underway Sturtivant, R & Ballance, T (1994). 'The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm' Published by Air Britain (Historians) Ltd, 1994 ISBN: 0 85130 223 8
The World’s Warships 1941 by Francis E. McMurtrie (1944). Janes London 1941 1st ed.
Jane's Fighting Ships of World War II by Francis E. McMurtrie (Editor)(1984). 320 pages. Crescent Books; ISBN: 0517679639