Chapter 2 - The Great Carrier War

(Part 1)

The Battle for Norway

By the end of World War I, the Royal Navy had lost its Fleet Air Arm to the Royal Air Force. Control of naval aviation was returned to the Royal Navy shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and by that time the Royal Navy had seven carriers and about 230 aircraft -- mostly biplane aircraft like the Swordfish torpedo bomber, Sea Gladiator fighter, Walrus seaplane, and the newer Skua monoplane fighter. Although the carriers were not well-equipped for the role, the Royal Navy formed submarine hunter-killer groups to address the growing threat of the German U-boats. On September 14, 1939, the HMS Ark Royal narrowly escaped torpedoes fired by the U-39. Three days later, however, the HMS Courageous was not as lucky, and was sunk by the U-29. About a week later, Skuas from the HMS Ark Royal shot down a Dornier Do-18, the first German aircraft lost to British guns.

On April 9, 1940, Germany mounted an invasion of Norway. The Royal Navy formed Task Force Z, which included the carrier HMS Furious, to disrupt the invasion. However, 90 German land-based bombers pounded the task force, and it had to withdraw. The following day, 16 land-based Skuas were sent to attack the German cruiser Korrigsberg at anchor at Bergen. The mission was a major first success. At the same time, a force of British destroyes sank two German destoyers and damaged three others at Narvik. However, five more German destroyers fled from port, and the battleship HMS Warspite and carrier HMS Furious were dispatched to finish off the fleeing destroyers. Although four of the destroyers escaped, the HMS Furious managed to sink a U-boat in a nearby Norwegian fjord.

By April 23, the British were ready to attempt a counter-invasion at Trondheim, Norway. The HMS Ark Royal and HMS Glorious launched Skuas to provide air cover. However, the Germans managed to repulse the British invasion. To add further injury, while she was heading back to base at Scapa Flow in the company of two destroyers, the HMS Glorious was attacked by the German cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst and sunk with a loss of over 1,500 crew. Although the attempted defense and later recapture of Norway ended in failure for the British, this early episode of World War II saw the beginnings of the eventual role of carriers during the War.

HMS Courageous
The HMS Glorious was a Courageous-class ship

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Last Updated: January 1, 2003