HMS Formidable, 1942 – Seafires returning – Extra Info

 A Formidable History

HMSFormidable, Seafires
HMSFormidable, Seafires returning

A fine #marinepainting by Gordon Frickers 40 x 61 cm (16″ x 24″), oils on board, Original Commission, Sold

A formidable career, a Hellcat flown by HMS FORMIDABLE, shot down the last three enemy aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm in World War II.

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HMS Formidable Battle Honours



Matapan 1941, Crete 1941, Mediterranean 1941, North Africa 1942- 3, Sicily 1943, Salerno 1943, Arctic Convoys 1943, “Mascot” 1943, Okinawa 1945, Japan 1945.

Notable events involving Formidable include:

17 Nov, 1942

The German submarine U-331 was sunk in the Mediterranean north of Algiers in position 37.05N, 02.27E after she had been badly damaged by a Hudson aircraft.
U-331 signaled surrender to a seaplane but was attacked and sunk by a torpedo-equipped aircraft Albacore from the HMS Formidable (Squadrons 500 and 820).

The Med for Operation Avalanche (Salerno 9/43)

FORMIDABLE did indeed operate both Mark Ib and Mark IIc Seafires simultaneously.
During Operation Avalanche (Salerno 9/43) Formidable operated six Supermarine Seafire IIc – which lacked folding wings and were therefore parked on the flight deck using out-rigger stowage.
The Seafire IIcs were quite distinct from the Seafire 1bs as they lack the “chin” air filter and were much more Spitfire-like in appearance so those are the aircraft we have chosen to show.

Formidable late 1943 was also seen with Fairy Swordfish on deck, but not featured in this painting.


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The Seafire

  • The first navalized Spitfires were basically the Spitfire Mk Vb with an arrestor hook.
  • Seafire Mk Ib: this first version of the Seafire had a strengthened Spitfire Mk Vb air frame, with an arrestor hook, slinging points and naval radios. 166 such conversions were made.
  • Seafire Mk IIc: fitted with Spitfire ‘c’ wings, these planes had catapult spools.
    The Mk II could carry a 250 kg (500 lb) bomb. 262 such planes were built.
    Both Mk I and Mk II Seafires were delivered to the Royal Navy in June 1942.

HMS Formidable an “Illustrious” class Aircraft carrier saw a great deal of action.

Laid down 17 June 1937, built by Harland and Wolff, launched 17 August 1939 and commissioned 24 November 1940.

Her war started escorting a convoy to Cape Town from December 1940 to January 1941.
She replaced the battle damaged HMS Illustrious in the Mediterranean in early 1941 and spent much of her war in the Med including at battle for Crete and in the Battle of Cape Matapan 27-29 March 1941.

One of her aircraft torpedoed the Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto on the 28th march 1941 seriously damaging her, despite coming under intense anti aircraft fire and a splash barrage of 15-inch shells.
They also contributed to the destruction of three Italian Cruisers the following day during the Battle of Matapan by torpedoing the Cruiser “Pola” allowing the British Battleships to close and finish them off.
In the two following months Formidable was involved in convoy escort-duty.

She supported the Crete operations in May where she suffered serious damage in air attacks by 1000kg bombs on 26 May 1941, and so was out of action for six months going to the USA for repairs June till December after which she sailed for the Indian Ocean remaining there between March to August 1942.

She returned in October 1942 to the Mediterranean by which time she was flying the marine version of the famous Supermarine Spitfire , the Seafire, and remained on station there until October 1943.
She took part in the North African landings in November 1942, Sicily landings in July 1943, and Salerno landings in September 1943.
On completion of her Mediterranean tour of duties she took part in an Arctic convoy in October 1943.

HMS Formidable was refitted between January – June 1944 and then her aircraft were involved in the operation “Mascot” attacks on the German Battleship Tirpitz in Norway on 17 July 1944.
She took part in further attacks on Tirpitz 22, 24 and 29 August 1944 as part of the “Goodwood” operations.

HMS Formidable sailed for the Far East on 16 September 1944.

By the time FORMIDABLE got to the Pacific in 1944 she was operating American-built Corsairs & Avengers.

She subsequently took part in air strikes against Sakishima Gunto, Okinawa and was twice hit by Japenese Kama Kazi planes but quickly back into action, able to operate aircraft within a few hours of attack, her aircraft later took part in air strikes against Japanese home islands between July-August 1945.

A Hellcat flown by HMS FORMIDABLE, shot down the last three enemy aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm in World War II.

HMS Formidable arrived in Sydney, Australia on 23 August, and subsequently undertook trooping voyages to UK September 1945-November 1946.

She and Illustrious visited many other far Eastern ports.


In 1935 the Admiralty took a radical step by deciding that the next generation of aircraft carriers would be afforded the same protection as the big-gun units.
Previous carriers had been armoured, but only the lower or main deck over the machinery and magazines and in a waterline belt.


The “Illustrious” Class ships were to have a hangar protected against 500 lb bombs and 6″ shells; this far sighted arrangement meant armouring the flight deck, and extending the vertical armour upwards to meet it covering the lower or main deck over the machinery and magazines and in a waterline belt.
As shown above, this probably saved the sip from very serious, possibly fatal damage at least 4 times.

The flight deck armour between the lifts was 3″ thick and the hangar walls, like the side belt, were 4.1″ thick.
As 5,000 tons of armour had to be worked into a treaty limit of 23,000 tons, the Illustrious class was consequently considerably shorter than the carrier “HMS ArkRoyal“, and because the flight deck armour weighed 1500 tons, the second hangar deck was omitted to reduce the freeboard by 22 feet and preserve stability.


The flight deck armour of the ships was penetrated only once – by an 1100lb (500kg) bomb which struck Illustrious during a concerted attack on her by German Stuka dive-bombers on 10 January 1941 near Crete.
That and six other bomb hits kept her out of action until the following December.

Both Formidable and Victorious were struck including by Kamikazes in 1945, and both were operating aircraft again soon after the hits – unlike the wooden-decked US carriers.

Paid off 1947, her hull in 1953 was found to be badly strained.
Broken up 1956 at Inverkeithling.


Research indicated this meant we were going to paint her either at Sicily or Operation Avalanche (Salerno 9/43)

Landing a Seafire or Spitfire, is something I have  seen many times at RAFBiggin Hill.

The final approach can be a wobbly business particularly for the Seafire at sea.
This because the visibility in a Seafire when landing, nose up, (and taxiing) was so poor the pilots would weave the aircraft.
To assist Pilots, HMS Formidable had a white line painted down the middle of the entire length of her flight deck.



This painting includes in the background haze a sister ship and an escort, a ‘W’ class destroyer.
The ‘H’ class destroyers were very similar.

Sister ships were HMS Illustrious, HMS Indomitable, and HMS Victorious.



My sincere thanks to, BRIAN SIMPSON, MEP and Mrs Baker who commissioned this artwork.

Brian also kindly sent in his Father’s personal log.
You can see it in Gordon’s blog.

Brian Simpson added “When ‘Hammy’ Gray was killed he was awarded the Victoria Cross for that action“.

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Gordon Frickers © 06.07.2012 updated 17.01.2020

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