Operation Hoops

This was a British carrierborne air operation against shipping off the coast of German-occupied Norway by a force of three escort carriers and supporting warships of Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser’s Home Fleet (7/9 May 1944).

The operation had originally been scheduled for the preceding month but been delayed by adverse weather, and was part of a complex of British naval operations between 4 May and 3 June using carrier assets against targets in the north of German-occupied Norway. Between 3 and 6 May ‘Croquet’ had been completed, and on 7 May ‘Hoops’ was launched by the Escort Carrier Squadron of the Home Fleet, and again proved successful inasmuch as the carrierborne aircraft harassed German coastal shipping, shot down two Blohm und Voss Bv 138 flying boats and three fighters, and bombed an oil tank on the coast for the loss of four British aircraft. The operation was also notable for the success of the Grumman Hellcat fighter-bomber (used as a bomber for the first time by the Home Fleet) despite the fact that the pilots were in no way fully trained in dive-bombing.

The fighter escort for the attacking aircraft was below normal strength as a result of the fact that the three carriers which carried Supermarine Seafire fighters (Attacker, Hunter and Stalker) had been withdrawn by the Admiralty at the last moment, leaving only Searcher (attached to this operation at the end of ‘Croquet’) to provide fighter escort and Striker to provide anti-submarine protection.

The force which departed Scapa Flow on 7 May comprised the escort carriers Emperor and Striker, light cruiser Jamaica, light anti-aircraft cruiser Royalist, and destroyers Kempenfelt, Marne, Onslaught, Undaunted, Wager and Canadian Sioux, joined 20 miles (32 km) to the north of Noup Head by Searcher.

The force reached its designated flying-off position at 07.30 on 8 May and two strikes, each of eight Hellcat aircraft escorted by eight Grumman Wildcat fighters, were launched. The first of these attacked a northbound convoy of five merchant ships with 10 escort vessels some 15 miles (24 km) to the south-west of Kristiansand, probably damaging one merchant ship for the loss of two Wildcat fighters to anti-aircraft fire. As they were flying back to their carriers, the aircraft were attacked by six Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, which shot down one Hellcat for the loss of three of their own number.

The second strike spotted no convoy, so the Hellcat fighter-bombers attacked the oil tanks at Kjen and the fish oil factory at Fosnavaag. The aircraft also machine gunned a merchant vessel off Ålesund, and the escorting Wildcat fighters shot down two Blohm und Voss Bv 138 flying boats. One of the Hellcat aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and lost after reaching the carrier force.

The force then withdrew west and returned to Scapa Flow on 9 May.