The Fleet Air Arm in CRUSADER
Fleet Air Arm squadrons were quite involved in the Mediterranean battles during Operation Crusader. While no carrier was active in the Med following the sinking of HMS Ark Royal on 13/14 November 1941, FAA squadrons such as No. 828 Squadron FAA (see also Thomas Barker’s diary) operated from Malta against Italian shipping, and several squadrons operated from the western desert in support of ground operations.
In the western desert, the following FAA squadrons were active in supporting naval operations, according to the official history:
Nos. 803, 805, 806 Squadron FAA formed the Western Desert RN Fighter squadron, consisting of 24 Hurricanes in 803 and 806 Squadrons (taken over from the RAF, presumably Hurricane I) and 12 Grumman Martlets (Wildcats for Americans) in 805 Squadron for 36 fighters in total. This was operating from August 41 from Mersa Matruh for shipping protection between Alexandria and Benghazi (once captured). They moved to Fort Maddalena on the frontier on 22 November and to Tobruk on 11 December. A short section in the official wartime account of the Fleet Air Arm published by the Ministry of Information in 1943 deals with the desert squadrons of the FAA (see also here). The Squadron operated under RAF Wings 264, 269 and 234 until disbanded in February 1942.
No. 815 Squadron FAA with 6 Fairey Albacores and 6 A.S.V. Fairey Swordfish (according to the official history A.S.V. was fitted in early December – this was an early form of air-ground radar used to detect ships). The squadron operated from Sidi Barrani on A/S (anti-submarine) patrols and A/S escort duties for convoys.
Formation of Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacores over Malta, GC. (IWM A16151)
No. 826 Squadron FAA with 12 Albacores which could carry out anti-shipping strikes when released from army cooperation duties. On army cooperation these carried out flare dropping and night bombing of vehicle and tank concentrations. To illuminate targets for night bombardment was a specialty function carried out by the Albacores, which were very well suited for this task, it appears. They also carried out spotting duties for naval bombardments such as occurred at Bardia and Derna during CRUSADER.
RAF torpedo squadrons did not become active until very late in the battle. As I understand it, No.39 Squadron, operating Bristol Beauforts out of Malta and Cyrenaica, contributed to the sinking of MS Vittoria of the T.18 convoy on 23 January 1942 (she was finished off by Albacores from No.826 Squadron FAA operating out of Berka in Cyrenaica).
Corrections and additions on this would be very welcome.