Corsairs and Barracudas aboard the flight deck of HMS Unicorn as she sails for Trincomalee, Ceylon in January 1944. Pictrure courtesy: Richard Mallory Allnutt collection
Corsairs and Barracudas aboard the flight deck of HMS Unicorn as she sails for Trincomalee, Ceylon in January 1944 with HMS Illustrious and battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth to her rear. The nearest Fairey Barracuda on the far left, P9886, went on to serve aboard HMS Illustrious, being lost in a non-fatal takeoff accident on 11 June 1944 with SLt D.B. Hayter at the controls. Courtesy: William Johnson photo – via Richard Mallory Allnutt collection
HMS Illustrious just off Gibraltar in January 1944, as seen from the flight deck of HMS Unicorn. Her deck is arrayed with Corsairs and Barracudas for the journey to the Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean at Trincomalee, Ceylon. While Illustrious was making this journey, Hugh Pawson was boarding a ship in San Francisco, bound for Ceylon as well. They would soon meet up. The eight horizontal crane-like structures or masts protruding from her sides are part of the long-range radio antenna. These communications masts run along each side of the ship, and deploy vertically when in use, but are lowered during aircraft operations for obvious reasons . Courtesy: William Johnson photo – via Richard Mallory Allnutt collection.
After his OTU training on Corsairs at Brunswick, Maine, Hugh boarded a ship in San Francisco, bound for Ceylon, where he was to train further on the Chance Vought Corsair and to eventually catch up with 1830 Squadron. The FAA OTU 757 Squadron operated at HMS Rajaliya (Sinhala for “Eagle”) at Puttalam on the northwest coast of Ceylon. Puttalam is famous among history buffs as the place that sometimes used elephants instead of wheeled mules to move aircraft around. As the British expanded their operations on the island, the airstrip of HMS Rajaliya was cut out of thick jungle at Puttalam. The grass strip was reinforced with metal. Even the heavy Americanbuilt Chance Vought F4U Corsairs used the runway, but during the wet season many a Corsair went sliding off into the muddy ground that surrounded the strip. It was then that the Navy called in its special Pachyderm towing vehicles to haul the aircraft back to solid ground. Operating in conditions where towing tractors became quickly bogged down, the “Puttalam Elephants” provided an invaluable service. They soon became part of the flying and ground crews fraternity.
A photograph of Hugh Pawson standing proudly on a 757 Squadron Corsair at Puttalam, Ceylon in 1944. 757 Squadron Fleet Air Arm was the FAA OTU at Puttalam, training pilots on everything from Supermarine Walruses to the Corsair, Seafire or Martlet. It was at Puttalam that Hugh began the process of becoming a true Royal Navy carrier pilot. He joined the carrier and 1830 Squadron in early May of 1944. While on Ceylon, Hugh also flew Grumman Martlet (Wildcat) fighters, likely with 757. Courtesy: Photo via Pawson Family Archive.
An image from Hugh Pawson’s album shows 16 Fleet Air Arm Corsairs from Illustrious doing a flypast of the waterfront in Colombo, Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka.) The date is Remembrance Day, 11 November 1944, and with the war beginning to wind down and Japan reeling backwards to their homeland, the Royal Navy was clearly taking the time to remember their losses and impress civilian and military personnel watching from the Galle Face Green, the open grassy sward in front of the Ceylonese Houses of Parliament on Colombo. It was also the fourth anniversary of Illustrious’ attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto in the Mediterranean Sea, giving these proud FAA aviators plenty of reason to fly the flag. Courtesy: Photo via Pawson Family Archive.
A final image in the group of photographs from Pawson’s album that were taken at Galle Face Green, Colombo on 11 November 1944. It shows possibly the same group of Corsairs (22 Flight?) and is certainly taken at the same time as the cloud formations are very similar. We also see other military equipment on display including a Fairey Barracuda aircraft, which must have been trucked to the site. Photo: Pawson Family Archive
Source: AN ILLUSTRIOUS HERO — The Hugh Pawson story by Dave O’Malley https://www.vintagewings.ca/stories/illustrious-hero] Compiled by : Group Captain Kuma Kirende