Tuesday, November 2, 2010

HMS Triumph

Figure 1: HMS Triumph underway off Subic Bay, Philippines, during joint US and UK naval exercises, 8 March 1950. Planes on her deck include Supermarine Seafire Mk. 47s of 800 Squadron, forward, and Fairey Fireflys aft. Photographed from a plane from USS Boxer (CV-21). Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: First Korean War Carrier Air Strikes, 3-4 July 1950. A North Korean railroad train is attacked just south of Pyongyang by planes from the joint US-British Task Force 77, 4 July 1950. The carriers involved were USS Valley Forge (CV-45) and HMS Triumph. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: Lieutenant (Junior Grade) W. Boyd Muncie disembarks from a H03S helicopter upon his return to USS Valley Forge (CV-45) on 19 July 1950, following his rescue from the Sea of Japan by an amphibian "Sea Otter" from HMS Triumph. The first naval aviator to be shot down by North Korean anti-aircraft fire, he spent two and a half hours in the water. Official US Navy Photograph, from the "All Hands" collection at the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: HMS Triumph entering Grand Harbor, Malta. Date unknown. Royal Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: HMS Triumph seen near Devonport, England, 5 October 1951. Royal Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: HMS Triumph (A108) seen in 1965 as a heavy repair ship. Place unknown. Royal Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7: The Royal Navy heavy repair ship HMS Triumph (A108) in the Atlantic in January 1972. Courtesy Isaac Newton, RN. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 8: A Supermarine Seafire Mk. 47, similar to the ones that served on board HMS Triumph during the Korean War. Note the unique Rotol contra-rotating propellers that were standard on the Mk. 47 model of the Seafire. Royal Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 9: Two Supermarine Seafire Mk. 47’s of 1833 Squadron, RNVR, flying at the Woverhampton air show on 16 May 1953. Note the two Rotol contra-rotating propellers on each plane. Courtesy RuthAS. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 10: A Fairey Firefly, similar to the ones that served on board HMS Triumph during the Korean War. Courtesy the Canadian Armed Forces. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 11: A Westland Wessex helicopter lands on board HMS Triumph (A108) while docked at Mombassa, Kenya, in December 1971. Courtesy Isaac Newton, RN. Click on photograph for larger image.

HMS Triumph was a 13,350-ton Colossus class aircraft carrier that was built by Hawthorn Leslie and Company at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England. The ship was laid down during World War II on 27 January 1943, but was not commissioned until 6 May 1946, almost a year after the war ended in Europe. Triumph was approximately 695 feet long and 80 feet wide, had a top speed of 25 knots, and had a crew of 1,300 officers and men. The ship was originally armed with 24 (or six quad) 2-pounder anti-aircraft guns, 22 (or 11 twin) 20-mm anti-aircraft guns, and 10 single 20-mm anti-aircraft guns, but this armament changed during the 1950s. Triumph could carry roughly 48 aircraft, depending on the size and type of the aircraft.

Triumph served actively during the post-World War II years and participated in various missions and naval exercises for the British Royal Navy. But when North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950, Triumph was steaming to Japan as part of the British Far East Fleet. As she was nearing Hong Kong, Triumph received the news of the invasion and was placed on high alert. Escorted by the destroyer HMS Cossack, the two ships went to the Royal Australian Naval base at Kure, Japan, for fuel and provisions. Once there, they were joined by another destroyer, HMS Consort, along with the cruiser HMS Jamaica, the Australian River class frigate HMAS Shoalhaven, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary tanker Wave Conqueror. The task force left Kure and refueled at Okinawa, Japan, before proceeding to the waters off the west coast of Korea.

At this time, Triumph was the only Royal Navy aircraft carrier in the Far East. This carrier and her aircraft played a vital role during the early months of the Korean War. After joining American carriers that had already arrived off the coast of Korea, Triumph’s 827 Naval Air Squadron (which was comprised of Supermarine Seafires, naval versions of the classic Spitfire fighters) began combat operations against North Korean targets. Triumph also carried Fairey Firefly strike fighters, which started flying combat missions as well. The propeller-driven Seafires and Fireflies were leftovers from World War II and, even though these aircraft were gradually being replaced by jets, they were all the Royal Navy had on hand when the war started.

On 3 July 1950, Seafires and Fireflies from Triumph, along with aircraft from the American carrier USS Valley Forge, participated in the first carrier strike of the war by bombing and strafing airfields at Pyongyang and Haeju. On 19 July, a Supermarine Sea Otter amphibious aircraft from Triumph, flown by Lieutenant P. Cane, rescued an American pilot, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) W. Boyd Muncie, after Muncie was forced to ditch his F4U Corsair in the Sea of Japan. Muncie was the first naval aviator to be shot down by North Korean anti-aircraft fire and he was forced to endure two and a half hours in the frigid water because of rough seas and terrible weather conditions. But Lieutenant Cane managed to land his amphibious aircraft to pick Muncie up and then he made a remarkable landing on board Triumph. For his extraordinary courage in rescuing Muncie, Cane was awarded the US Air Medal.

Triumph’s Seafires continued pounding the North Korean coastline. The Seafires sank two North Korean gunboats, attacked numerous railway tracks, and used their rockets to destroy enemy oil tanks and small coastal vessels. The Seafires also completed many photographic reconnaissance missions. But all of these combat operations were taking a toll on Triumph’s aircraft. With only nine operational aircraft left on board the ship, Triumph went to Sasebo, Japan, for some badly needed repairs and supplies. She arrived at Sasebo on 23 August 1950, but was back in action by 29 August. The next day, though, Triumph had to return to Sasebo to pick up 14 new aircraft to replace the ones that had worn out. By 3 September, Triumph left Sasebo and returned to Korea’s west coast. Her aircraft performed Combat Air Patrol missions and reconnaissance missions, and identified land targets that were bombarded by the cruiser HMS Jamaica and the destroyer HMS Charity. On 6 September, Triumph steamed to the east coast of Korea to replace some American carriers of the US Seventh Fleet. Her Seafires and Fireflies started attacking enemy targets on 8 September, causing major damage to North Korean forces.

Triumph’s aircraft provided vital air cover and anti-submarine patrols during the amphibious landing at Inchon on 15 September 1950. Fireflies from Triumph also identified land targets for the cruisers HMS Jamaica and HMS Kenya, which provided a devastating bombardment of North Korean positions during the landing. The target spotting by Triumph’s Fireflies was so accurate that, on one occasion, a broadside from HMS Jamaica was able to blow up a camouflaged supply dump of North Korean weapons and ammunition. The explosion that followed destroyed a large hill and sent a plume of smoke 8,000 feet into the air. On 21 September 1950, Triumph arrived at Sasebo for the last time during the Korean War. Temporary repairs were made to her in dry dock and she left for Hong Kong on 25 September.

After her part in the Korean War ended, Triumph became a cadet training ship. In 1952, the ship was used for the first trials of an angled flight deck. The success of these trials led to the development of the now standard design, with additional areas of the flight deck added to the port side of the ship. Triumph’s role as a cadet training ship ended in 1955 and from 1956 to 1965 she was converted into a heavy repair ship. Triumph was based at Singapore after her conversion and participated in a major naval exercise in the Far East in 1968. In 1975, HMS Triumph was decommissioned and placed in reserve at the Chatham Dockyard in Kent, England. She was sold for scrapping in 1981.