Return to the East

On July 3, 1944, Indomitable returned to Colombo where she embarked the F6F Hellcat fighters of 1839 and 1844 Squadrons - the first of their type to enter service with the FAA.

Over the next few months she and HMS Illustrious would be joined by more and more armoured carriers, all joining an increasing tempo of strikes against Japanese facilities.

Indomitable arrived in Sydney with the bulk of the British Pacific Fleet on February 10, 1945, and then moved to Manus on March 7.

STRAFE ATTACK: APRIL 1

Soon after the first air strikes were launched at 0640, approaching aircraft were detected by radar.
Some aircraft breached the defences and singled out their targets - mostly the flattops.

A single plane came in low over HMS Indomitable, strafing the deck. Most of the flight deck operations crew were able to reach cover. However one man was killed and six others injured.

One of Indomitable’s officers related this story: 

One deck handler was driving his little truck across the flight deck when the attack began. There was a terrible noise and you could see the marks of machine-gun bullets popping along the deck. The truck was hit and the wind-screen shattered. But he drove on and was unhurt. Either he was very brave or more likely, he hadn’t the first idea of what was happening.

  The second in a sequence of photographs taken from the bridge of HMS Indomitable showing a kamikaze exploding in the water off the port bow of the armoured aircraft carrier.

The second in a sequence of photographs taken from the bridge of HMS Indomitable showing a kamikaze exploding in the water off the port bow of the armoured aircraft carrier.

KAMIKAZE: MAY 4

HMS Indomitable was the target of the second kamikaze attack on the fateful day when Task Force 57 detached its escorting cruisers and battleships for a shore bombardment.

Billowing steam and smoke was already erupting from the impact on HMS Formidable. Three minutes after this surprise attack another Zeke was seen flying low above the water, passing from forward to aft from over the starboard bow of Indomitable. 

Warned by the attack on Formidable, the fleet’s gunners were now alert. The kamikaze was engaged at first by Indomitable’s bow 4.5in turrets, and then by the light guns from the carrier and her escorts. The Zeke evaded by climbing back into the cover of the clouds some 3000ft above.

It soon reappeared, this time in a 60 degree death-dive from the starboard beam.

The fleet was already in an evasive turn to starboard under orders from Admiral Vian, and the Captain of the Indomitable now ordered his helm hard-over.

The kamikaze was seen to be hit repeatedly by the Oerlikons and pompoms. While set afire, it was not knocked from its course.

But Indomitable’s evasive action appeared to have been effective. The kamikaze pilot’s aim was confused and he flattened out in what may have been an attempt to come-around again, in the same fashion as had just occurred with Formidable.

WITNESS ACCOUNT:
GRAHAM OAKES EVANS

Indomitable performed evasion manoeuvres as the first “Kamikaze” [of only three from a formation of twenty] to break through the CAP closed in on the starboard side, and somehow evaded the ship’s ferocious flak barrage. The “Kamikaze” struck Indomitable’s flight-deck about ten yards astern of the island, sending personnel, diving for cover. The “Kamikaze” spewed burning petrol engulfing the flight deck in billowing thick acrid smoke, but surprisingly it did not explode as it bounced off the armoured flight deck and glided over the portside. It detonated upon impact with the ocean, throwing a huge sheet of water over the carrier, having caused “superficial damage.” There was no respite though, as a second “Kamikaze” attacked. Miraculously our luck held, as I watched the suicide plane pass just above the flight-deck, over our heads. It too exploded harmlessly as it hit the ocean just alongside, punctuated by another shower of water over the deck. Within a couple of hours the petrol fires had been extinguished, the bits of wreckage swept over the side and we were operating again before the Japanese launched their second attack.

Impact

The pilot had misjudged his height and, at 1147, as he leveled out at the very last moment, the aircraft belly-flopped on the steel flight deck, skidding across the ship and bounced over the port side. 

He crashed through the Type 282 radar arrays of the port midships anti-aircraft directors.

The Captain’s action report concluded:

Very little damage was done except to the ship’s radars and his bomb appeared to explode shortly after the plane submerged.

In the shower of spray and water that lashed over the flagship was the pilot’s right hand and a selection of obviously sentimental objects. 

Captain Eccles, a qualified Japanese interpreter, examined a tangle of papers found among the detritus. Unfortunately it did not reveal anything more than what occupied a kamikaze’s social life in the days before their death dives.

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Second strike

Eight minutes later – while the deck crews were “manning their brooms” - another Zeke suddenly made a dive for HMS Indomitable. 

This time the flagship’s gunners were fired up and they, along with the adjacent destroyer HMS Quality, quickly hit the Japanese aircraft hard.

 It burst into flames and crashed into the sea 10 yards off the Indomitable’s bow.

Nobody aboard the ship was injured.

Graham Oakes Evans had this to say:

… The ship performed evasion maneuvers as the first Kamikaze (of only three from a formation of 20) to break through the CAP closed in on the starboard side and somehow evaded the ship’s ferocious flak barrage. The Kamikaze struck (our) flight deck about 10 yards astern of the island sending personnel diving for cover. The Kamikaze spewed burning petrol engulfing the flight deck in black acrid smoke. But surprisingly it did not explode as it bounced off the armoured flight deck and glided over the port side. It detonated upon impact with the ocean, throwing a huge sheet of water over the carrier … There was no respite though as a second Kamikaze attacked. Miraculously our luck held as I watched the suicide plane pass just above the flight deck over our heads. It too exploded harmlessly as it hit the ocean alongside punctuated by another shower of water over the deck.


Counting the cost

HMS Indomitable’s damage was minor. But it would prove to be significant.

She was the only ship in Task Force 57 with the most modern American air-warning radar. It was put out of action and, because of a shortage of spares, was not returned to service for some time.

This attack was unlikely to have contributed to the shaft defects that were to haunt Indomitable for the remainder of her deployment. 

Like Illustrious, Indomitable had survived a serious beating in the Mediterranean and rushed repairs had not entirely made good all the damage. One of these issues included a defective stern tube bush which had already reduced her maximum speed.

WITNESS ACCOUNT: 
GRAHAM OAKES EVANS

Our American liaison officer witnessed the carriers being hit by the Kamikazes and engulfed in smoke.

He commented something like we better send the carriers home for repair.

When told the carriers will be made operational shortly he threw his hat onto the bridge floor and stamped on it in disbelief.

American wooden deck carriers would have been finished, you see.

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WITNESS ACCOUNT: HMS INDOMITABLE, MAY 4, 1945
From A.B. Ronald Fidler, HMS Indomitable 

As an A.B. my job was the after lift driver, and when the aircraft were landing I was talker for the batsman, I had a pair of binoculars, and as the aircraft approached the stern I would inform the Batsman that the hook, wheels and flaps were down for landing. 
One day we were to make a bombing attack. I had taken the lift to the lower hangar (we had 2) and was waiting for the first aircraft to be pushed on to take to the flight deck, when without warning the armoured doors closed. 
Not quite certain what to do and not knowing what was happening I decided to take the lift to the flight deck, as my head came level with the flight deck, not a soul was to be seen. By this time all guns were firing and I could see what they were firing at, within about a minute of crashing onto the deck. 
I did not wait for the lift to reach the top, but jumped up to the deck (in the meantime the lift would reach the deck level and stop itself). I ran across the deck, to the starboard side, the twin 4.5 guns were pointing over the deck fired, I felt the blast of the shells as they went over my head.
 I managed to reach the manhole in the side of the ship, about 6 yards away and jump down the hatchway. My feet did not touch one step on the way down. 
In the meantime the kamikaze had hit the deck, slid along it and over the side. Another kamikaze was following and was hit by our gunners, was set alight and finally shot down before it could reach the ship. 
During the first attack on the fleet I witnessed an attack on HMS Indefatigable. Her planes were fully loaded with bombs, lined up on deck for take-off. A kamikaze hit right in the middle of them, in seconds the deck was a mass of flames and smoke from stem to stern. 
I could see the flight crew manhandling the burning planes and pushing them over the side, the heat must have been terrible, 100’s of burn casualties besides those that died on the day. While Indefatigable was ablaze, through all the fire and smoke, every gun on board continued to fire.
On that day I learnt first-hand why the British Royal Navy can boast such a proud record. I feel privileged to have served in this service with such men.

Collision with Quilliam

The morning of May 20, 1945, was marked by thick fog, with visibility reduced to just 200 yards. 

The destroyer HMS Quilliam was stationed one mile behind HMS Indomitable as the flattop’s kamikaze guard ship. 

At 0525 a shout from the Commander (A) alerted Indomitable’s bridge crew to the approaching destroyer.

Quilliam's sharp bow had suddenly appeared off the port quarter.

Before anybody could react, the destroyer slammed into Indomitable’s port side at 131 Station - on the port cutter bay and lower gallery deck.

A 10-foot hole was torn in the cutter bay sponson, but most of the blow was on the 4in of belt armour on the carrier's side.

Both ships were already at Action Stations, so nobody was inured.

While the damaged sponson was no impediment to air operations, but the plating would need dockyard attention. The section was sealed off and made as watertight as possible, and left for a later date.

Aftermath

Once the ICEBERG deployment was over, all the carriers of Task Force 57 returned to Sydney. It was a frantic time for the dockyard maintenance crews.

Once HMS Formidable was pulled from the Captain Cook dry dock, Indomitable was immediately moved into position. Her 50 ton rudder was lifted out, a propeller removed and the centre propeller shaft removed. The housing was bored out and refitted, and everything put back into place. The task took four weeks to complete.


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