HMS Theseus and Sea Furies in the Korean War

My Mum unfortunately went into a care home in July 2019 and amongst her possessions were a huge number of photographs, many of which I had not seen.  From almost 3000 photos, I have extracted these in relation to my Dad’s posting during the Korean War that he sent back to my Mum.  Many just said “love Don”, but he wrote dates and identification information on the backs of some of these photos from late 1950 and early 1951.  According to my Dad’s Royal Navy record in the Fleet Air Arm, he was posted to HMS Theseus on 12th August 1950 and he was in charge of radar service and maintenance in 807 Squadron, which flew Hawker Sea Fury aircraft.  The Sea Fury was the last of the propeller driven aircraft to serve on aircraft carriers.  It was a modification to the original development of the Fury as a land based fighter aircraft.  The Sea Fury was a version that had folding wings and an arrester hook for landing, but was changed into a fighter bomber for ground attack use.  These photos show Sea Furies on the flight deck of HMS Theseus, with the last one in the act of landing.  Two of the photos had the dates written on the back by my Dad.  The black and white markings are for easy identification of members of the UN forces.  The first photo shows fourteen aircraft on deck, ten Sea Furies and four Fairey Fireflies from 810 squadron.  The Firefly was a twin seat (pilot and observer), slower aircraft that could carry a heavier payload and it had a four blade propeller, whereas the Sea Fury had five blades.  Sea Furies 117 and 118 can be identified from the photo of four aircraft with folded wings.

There were a number of photos of the carrier’s journey outwards through the Suez Canal via Aden, before crossing the Indian Ocean to Hong Kong.  These photos give an idea of the trip.  My Dad has the palest skin in the four shown in the group below and the others have not been identified.  He is also in the bottom right photo, a better copy of one I have published on another blog page

These photos are a brief glimpse of the arrival in Sasebo, Japan, with the distinctive church and mountain in the background, plus children in traditional dress.

Refuelling at sea was a tricky business and there were two photos of the the Royal Fleet Auxiliary transport vessels involved in this.  The larger photo captioned by my Dad being RFA Wave Laird and the smaller photo clearly showing RFA Wave Knight across the stern.

There are a number of shots of Sea Furies and Fire Flies that can be identified, including several that were damaged in the act of landing on deck and becoming entangled in the arrester wires.  Numbers 117 and 119 were identified earlier in this blog, but these photos identify 114, 128 and 131 totalling five Sea Furies from the ship’s complement.   Fire Flies 230, 231, 233, 236, 238 and 241, are also shown making six in total out of the ship’s complement.  The photo of Sea Fury 128 is to the right of Fire Fly 230, but the number is hidden unless the photo is clicked on.  Alfie Shillingford has uploaded 85 photos from his grandfather’s collection on to Flickr and these show three more Fire Flies 235, 237 and 240, but my Dad’s collection has photos of 230 and 233, so between us we have identified nine of these aircraft.  A couple of photos in Alfie Shillingford’s upload show HMS Theseus from the air with twenty-eight aircraft on deck with eleven Fireflies and seventeen Sea Furies.  I am not sure if this is the full complement but there was not much room left.

The work done on the carrier included adding ordnance to the planes and these images show this work in progress.

Inevitably the ground attack role meant dropping bombs on the Korean mainland and two of these images show impact craters taken from the air.  The middle image appears to show a target airstrip and Alfie Shillingford has the same photo uploaded and he has captioned it “rocket attack, Ongjin, Korea”.


There were some photos taken of other personnel on the carrier, but only one was identified, “My Ops – Peter” top left, but I don’t know his full name.  My Dad is top right in a fire protection hood and he is in the white shorts standing by a Sea Fury.  The bottom two colleagues are unidentified.

As the largest force, there were many American ships involved in the war and these photos identify 704 USS Borie – a destroyer , 29 USS Bataan – an aircraft carrier relieving HMS Theseus and 213 USS Mountrail – an attack transport supplying troops.  The last vessel was the USS Maine, with red cross amid-ships identifying it as a hospital ship.

My Dad left HMS Theseus’s command on 30th May 1951 after it returned back to the UK with the carrier re-tracing the route taken on the outbound journey.  We can only be pleased that he was in one piece and not on that hospital ship!