Salute to an Old Lady
By Arthur Cairns, R.N.

At 0520 today, 29th July 1941, the "FURIOUS" completed 100,000 miles since leaving Devonport on 26th August, 1939 to take up her war station in the Forth.

Before the end of 1939, she had operated in the North Sea and beyond Iceland in the Home Fleet, using Halifax, Nova Scotia as her base, and joined the "REPULSE" in hunting the "DEUTCHLAND", and covering the convoy route off Cape Race. From "HALIFAX" she brought over the first contingent of Canadian Troops in the famous "DEBNETT CONVOY" in which she acted as flagship and while doing so missed a head on collision with the "SAMARIA" by a few feet.

The high moments of her career since 1940 came during the Norwegian Campaign, where, for the first two weeks, until other carriers arrived, she supplied the only aircraft on the spot, and apart from a Walrus or two, she virtually took on the "Luftwaffe" with eighteen Swordfish.

At Trondheim on the third day of the campaign, she launched her first large scale torpedo attack with aircraft in history and later that day helped the Fleet to drive off a retaliatory bombing attack lasting an hour and a half. On this occasion the Quarter Deck guns alone fired 280 rounds, and the German Radio subsequently announced that an aircraft carrier had been left in flames and smoke.

After that she had a finger in the second Narvic Battle, and she carried on operating in the neighbourhood until a roving aircraft shook the blades from her turbines with a couple of near misses in a fjiord near Tromso. Then she limped back to the Clyde on two propellors. On this trip one of her escorting destroyers claimed to have put down a submarine.

In the Clyde she anchored abreast the "MAILLE BREZE", a French Contretorpilleur, which accidentally torpedoed herself, caught fire, and after a series of expolosions, finally sank. For their part in the rescue, several of "FURIOUS'S Officers and ratings received official commendations.

After a further trip to Norway, destined to start the epic of the Gladiators of Bardufoss, she suddenly embarked nearly 20,000,000 pounds in bullion and on the 14th June she left Halifax with it. This was at the time of the French collapse, and she returned at once with a load of American aircraft, alarmingly rusty bombs and privately a stupendous quality of sugar.

Next came a quiet spell at Scapa, waiting with the Fleet, to deal with Hitler's threatened invasion and between times raiding Norway, exercising and dodging mines in Pentland Firth.

Then began what so far proved the most strenuous and possibly most valuable though least spectacular period of her war service, a period devoted to ferrying aircraft, and which lasted from November 1940 to July 1941. Three trips she made to Takoradi on the Gold Coast, each some 13,000 miles. The Hurricanes she took there were, a fortnight later, contributing appreciably to General Wavell's thrust into Cyrenacia. On her second trip, Christmas day found her North of the Azores, leading the port wing of a valuable military Convoy, when at dawn, the "HIPPER" attacked on the starboard.

The third trip was uneventful, though the presence of the "SCHARNHORST" and "GNEISENAU" were reported to be in the vicinity. So that it had its moments of lively speculation.

At Belfast, however, where she went on returning for some patchwork, she came in for compensatory excitement, and on the second heavy air raid recieved a 1,000 lb bomb through her Flight Deck, setting fire to the Lower Hangar when it exploded. To avoid further attention, she crossed to Liverpool next day, only to run into three more air raids. This time she escaped damage, although a few incendiaries were dropped aboard.

Two more trips, this time to the Western Mediterranean with Force H, brought the period of ferrying to an end. Nothing interrupted the smooth progress of the first trip, even though on one occasion we flew off Hurricanes within easy reach of Sardinia. The second trip brought the tragedy of the 30th June, and also the attack by Focke Wulff aircraft after leaving Gibraltar on her way home. Now "FURIOUS" is back near her old haunts, operating as she did when the war was still young, and today we lift a glass to the future - to her successful passage and another 100,000 miles if necessary - even as we salute the memory of shipmates who have passed with the 100,000 miles that already lie eastern.
Arthur Cairns, R.N.
July 29, 1941
(Courtesy of Arthur "Art" Cairns, Jr.)

Builder's Data
Page published Apr. 25, 2010