HMS Unicorn (I72): Wikis


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HMS Unicorn at a Japanese port (probably Sasebo) after a tour of duty in Korean waters.
Career (United Kingdom)
Name: Unicorn
Ordered: 14 April 1939
Builder: Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Laid down: 26 June 1939
Launched: 20 November 1941
Commissioned: 12 March 1943
Decommissioned: January 1946
Commissioned: 1949
Decommissioned: 17 November 1953
Honours and
Atlantic, Norway and the Mediterranean
Fate: Scrapped 1960 at Faslane.
General characteristics
Displacement: 14,750 long tons (14,990 t) (normal); 20,300 long tons (20,600 t) (full load)
Length: 640 ft (200 m)
Beam: 90.25 ft (27.51 m)
Draught: 23 ft (7.0 m) full load
Installed power: 40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
Propulsion: 2 × Parsons geared turbines,
4 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers,
2 × shafts
Speed: 22 kn (25 mph; 41 km/h)
Complement: 1,000
Sensors and
processing systems:
Radar Type 281B
Armament: 8 × QF 4 in (100 mm) Mk XVI DP guns (4x2),
12 × 2-pounder (40 mm) AA guns (3x4),
8 × Oerlikon 20 mm cannons
Armour: 2 in (51 mm) (flight deck and magazines)
Aircraft carried: 35 (operational use)

HMS Unicorn (I72) was a British aircraft maintenance vessel and light aircraft carrier that saw war service in the Second World War from 1943 until the Japanese surrender and again during the Korean War. She was the only ship of her class, her design influenced by the Ark Royal-class carriers.

She was used in war service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean in 1943, East Indies in 1944-1945, Pacific in 1945, and Korea 1950 to 1953.[1]


Design and construction

As naval aviation developed between the two world wars, the Admiralty appreciated the usefulness of a "depot ship" to support the aircraft carriers in active service, much in the way of submarine and destroyer depot ships. Such a ship would be able to perform a wider range of aircraft repair and maintenance tasks than aircraft carriers and on the full range of aircraft operated by the Royal Navy, including amphibians. In practice, Unicorn proved the value of the concept and two more similar support ships, HMS Perseus and Pioneer came into service in 1945.

Unicorn was designed to fulfil two roles: the support role outlined above - the first such ship for the Royal Navy - and also as an a fleet aircraft carrier able to land, service and launch aircraft on active operations. She was therefore designed with a full length flight deck with catapults and arresting gear as well as lifts capable of handling larger aircraft.[1] When operating in the support role, she carried workshops and necessary stores, including 36,000 gallons (136,275 L) of aviation fuel.[2]

She was ordered in April 1939 and her construction began in June, at Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Her construction was delayed several times in favour of higher priority projects such as convoy escorts; she was first commissioned on 12 March 1943.[1]


Unicorn was named in 1939 by the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Earl Stanhope. Unfortunately, the name was already in use by a wooden frigate (in use as a drill ship) originally built in 1824. The frigate's name was hastily changed to Unicorn II in 1939 but this caused administrative confusion and in 1941 she was renamed HMS Cressy, regaining her original name in 1959 when the aircraft carrier was scrapped.[2]

World War II



Unicorn became operational in March 1943 and, originally allocated to the Eastern Fleet, it was then decided to retain her for service in home waters. Despite her intended role as an aircraft depot ship, she was temporarily used as a fleet carrier. On 24 March 1943, three squadrons were embarked on Unicorn for deck landing training in the Clyde and anti-submarine operations in home waters. After training and working-up (late March to early June), from 8 June, Unicorn, attached to the Home Fleet, carried out a sweep to the north of Norway with Illustrious, returning safely in early July[note 1][1][2].

Her next operational assignment — in August 1943 — was again as a light fleet carrier. She joined "Force V", a flotilla of British carriers, commanded by Admiral Philip Vian, supporting Operation Avalanche, the Allied landings at Salerno. [note 2] This duty was extended from two to five days, at the request of the army commander, Mark Clark[1], despite fuel shortages; Vian replied: "My carriers will stay here if we have to row back"[3].

There were particular problems with the Seafire aircraft flying off the escort carriers. These carriers had a relatively slow speed which, with the windless conditions at the time, made landings risky; more aircraft were lost through mishaps than through enemy action. By the end of the assignment, the original one hundred and eighty Seafires had been reduced to just thirty[3].

After Avalanche, in October 1943, Unicorn returned to Scapa Flow[1], employed on supply and repair duties, for aircraft repair and transport and for fleet backup and support[2].

Far East

At the end of December 1943, Unicorn departed for Trincomalee (Ceylon)[1]. Due to the delayed arrival of Victorious[2], she was available for use as an operational carrier as well as her support role and, although no record has been found of her deployment in an active service role during the raids on Japanese oil installations, she was used as a flight deck during preceding training exercises[1].

In November 1944, she was transferred to the newly-formed British Pacific Fleet and sailed for Australia at the end of December[1], where she helped to set up Mobile Naval Air Bases (MONABs). These shore bases were needed to assist the Royal Navy and other "Empire Navies" to operate independently in the Pacific. An advance party of MONAB II with 16 crated aircraft was landed from Unicorn in December 1944, at RAAF Bankstown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. These were to be assembled by the advance party, with RAAF assistance.[2].

Unicorn had a special duty in mid January, forming part of the escort for the Duke of Gloucester who was travelling to take up his appointment as Governor General of Australia.[1]

From February 1945 until the Japanese surrender Unicorn was with Task Force 112, used for repair and ferrying aircraft to the operational fleet off the Sakishima Islands. She was based at the Royal Navy's forward base at Manus Island with deployments to Leyte (to join the operational fleet) in April 1945 and to Sydney in June (to prepare to support operations off Japan).[1]


After the Japanese surrender, Unicorn continued with aircraft repairs and also assisted in the repatriation of civilian and military prisoners held by the Japanese, departing for home in December 1945 and arriving in Plymouth in January 1946. She was decommissioned and reduced to the reserve list.[1]

In 1949, with the deterioration of relations with Communist China, Unicorn was reactivated for service in the Far East, initially in support of HMS Theseus[1]. She arrived at Singapore in October with a cargo of aircraft. Although due to return home in September 1950, the Korean War broke out in June 1950 and she remained in the Far East until 1954[1]. During this time, her Aircraft Repair Department was disembarked to HMS Simbang, at RAF Sembawang, Singapore and Unicorn acted as a replenishment carrier, ferrying replacement aircraft and supplies from her base at Singapore to the Royal Navy and Commonwealth aircraft carriers (including HMS Triumph and Theseus) in Kure and Sasebo, Japan.[4]

Unicorn was also used as a troopship, one of the first to land personnel in Korea. She carried about 6,000 troops, including the Middlesex Regiment and the Headquarters of the 27th Brigade. On several occasions, she joined in the action, flying her own aircraft and acting as a spare flight deck.[4] Once, in 1953, she engaged enemy positions in North Korea with her 4 in (100 mm) battery, thereby more closely engaging the enemy than any of the other carriers[2][5].


On her return to Britain in 1954, Unicorn returned to reserve and, although refitted in 1955, in 1958, after a proposal for her conversion to a troop carrier had been rejected[1], she was decommissioned, placed on the disposal list and sold for scrap. In June 1959, she left Devonport for the last time, heading for the Clyde, under tow, to be stripped at Dalmuir and broken up at Troon less than a year later.


  1. ^ This operation, Operation Governor, was a diversion for the Allied landings in north Africa. The two aircraft carriers were escorted by battleships HMS Anson and Duke of York, cruisers and destroyers. Unicorn operated three FAA squadrons, Nos 800, 818 and 824 Naval Air Squadrons.
  2. ^ Force V also comprised the escort carriers HMS Attacker, Battler, Hunter and Stalker. They were escorted by cruisers HMS Euryalus, Charybdis and Scylla and destroyers HMS Cleveland, Holcombe, Atherstone, Liddesdale, Farndale, Calpe, Haydon and ORP Ślązak and Krakowiak.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Mason, (2001)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Fleet Air Arm Archive, (2000-2001)
  3. ^ a b Daily Telegraph, (7 Dec 2005)
  4. ^ a b Paul, (2008)
  5. ^ United States Department of the Navy, (2004)


See also

  • Western Evening Herald (2 November 1983)
  • Jane's Fighting Ships of World War II. Studio. 1989. ISBN 0-851-70494-9. 

External links


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