Tag Archives: USS Robin

RN Flattops Echo History in the Med

Moving on to the second leg of the Royal Navy’s 28-week CSG21 deployment (which has already seen combat sorties), HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), along with her task force, on 6 July passed into the Suez Canal from the Med and into the Red Sea and firmly inside the Middle East on her way, eventually, to the Pacific.

“Flanked by the spectacular scenery of Egypt’s desert landscape, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her escorts and auxiliaries have passed through the Suez Canal, marking a new chapter in the operational deployment of the UK Carrier Strike Group,” photo/caption by RN. Note the American Aegis destroyer (The Sullivans) behind her.

With an airwing made up of RAF, RN, and USMC aviators flying a mix of 40 AEW, strike fighter (F-35B), and ASW/ASuW helicopters (Wildcats), the 65,000-ton carrier is escorted by the RN Type 23 ASW frigates HMS Richmond (F239) and HMS Kent (F78); Type 45 air defense destroyers HMS Defender (D36) and HMS Diamond (D34); Royal Fleet Auxiliaries RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring; the Burke-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG-68), the Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen (F805); and the (largely unseen) attack boat HMS Artful (S121).

As the task force has a company of 42 Royal Marine Commando spread out in dets across the various ships, you can bet eyeballs are peeled and magazines are loaded, if needed.

Royal Marines of 42 Commando have been on intensive training missions as part of their role on the Carrier Strike Group deployment (Photo/caption, RN)

Enter player #2 

On the same day as HMSQNLZ ran the Suez, 6 July, her sistership, HMS Prince of Wales (R09) entered Gibraltar with a rotary-wing group of Apache attack helicopters of the British Army’s 656 Squadron and Wildcats of 825 Naval Air Squadron (as the ship is still in shakedown and the Brits don’t have any “spare” F-35s currently)

HMS Prince of Wales, Gibraltar July 6, 2021

Still, this makes it the first time two British large-deck carriers (not Invincible-class through-deck destroyers/Harrier carriers) were in the Med in the same year– much less the same time– was circa 1970, when both of the operational 40,000-ton Audacious-class flattops of the Royal Navy– HMS Eagle (R05) and HMS Ark Royal (R09)— passed through the sea with active air wings. Alternatively, Ark Royal and the smaller 23,000-ton HMS Hermes (R12) were both in Gibraltar at the same time in 1970 immediately before Hermes was downgraded to a helicopter-only “Commando Carrier” (that would later carry Harriers in the Falklands) and still had an airwing that included a squadron each of Blackburn Buccaneer S.2s (801 NAS) and De Havilland Sea Vixen FAW.2s (893 NAS).

But the history of last week’s evolution by the Royal Navy goes further.

“Hello, Gibraltar!” noted Prince of Wales‘ social media feed on the occasion of sighting The Rock. “It’s been a fair few years since the name @HMSPWLS has graced your shores. We are looking forward to it.”

Indeed, the last HMS Prince of Wales, the famed King George V-class battleship that, although not fully complete, engaged in the epic Hunt for the Bismarck in May 1941, called at Gibraltar during WWII twice that same year, in September, as bookends of a series of convoys to Malta.

That makes it an almost 80-year gap, shy of just a couple months. 

King George V-class battleship HMS Prince of Wales (53) in Gibraltar, 1941.

The battleship, just over two months later, was famously lost to strikes from ground-based Japanese aircraft off the coast of Malaya as part of Force Z when she was sunk on 10 December 1941, two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Echos of USS Robin

In November 1942, with the U.S. Navy down to just two fleet carriers in the Pacific– Saratoga and Enterprise— the Royal Navy helped out its ally with the loan of the Illustrious-class aircraft carrier HMS Victorious (R38).

Using the code name USS Robin, Victorious picked up American equipment and a very Yankee camo scheme in Norfolk in January 1943 and, with 36 Martlet IVs (British F4F-4B Wildcats) of 822, 896 and 898 NAS, and 12 Avenger TBF-1s of 832 NAS, she arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943 where she was fitted with heavier arrester wires for the big TBFs as well as more AAA guns.

By May, she formed Carrier Division 1 along with Saratoga and the next month, chopping her Avengers and 832 NAS over to Sara, welcomed aboard two dozen F4F-4 Wildcats from the Tomcatters of Fighter Squadron 3 (VF-3) to provide air cover for U.S. landings in the Solomon Islands while Sara concentrated her efforts on strike.

HMS Victorious in 1943 as USS Robin. She has Wildcats of VF-3 from USS Saratoga on deck and an Atlanta-class lighter cruiser, either USS San Diego (CL-53) or San Juan (CL-54), on the outside of the tanker USS Cimmaron. Photo via Armoured Carriers. 

Victorious spent the next three months in the West Pac, operational with her joint Commonwealth-U.S. airwing, steamed some 23,000 miles and conducted 2,101 deck landings, many of which were done in combat. While VF-3 left the British carrier after that summer, and “Robin” returned to the Atlantic and Admiralty use by September 1943, it was an interesting page in carrier warfare that hasn’t been repeated…

…until this week.

F-35B fighter jets have flown their first operational sorties from the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), striking targets in Syria with aircraft provided by the joint RN FAA/RAF-manned 617 “Dambusters” Squadron and the “Wake Island Avengers” of the USMC’s VMFA-211.

Three F-35B Lightning, one of RAF 617 and two of VMFA-211, on the deck of HMSQE in the Med off Syria, June 2021 (MoD photo)

“The Lightning Force is once again in action against Daesh, this time flying from an aircraft carrier at sea, which marks the Royal Navy’s return to maritime strike operations for the first time since the Libya campaign a decade ago,” Captain James Blackmore, Commander of the Carrier Air Wing, noted.

“This is also notable as the first combat mission flown by US aircraft from a foreign carrier since HMS Victorious in the South Pacific in 1943. The level of integration between Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, and US Marine Corps is truly seamless, and testament to how close we’ve become since we first embarked together last October.”