Desperate times called for desperate measures. The greatest threat to Britain’s ability to continue the war lay in the Atlantic where the U-Boat attacks on convoys were a cause for serious concern throughout 1941. Some means had to be found to combat the long range German Condor aircraft that were used to locate convoys and call in U-Boats, as well as undertaking bombing themselves.
Catapult Armed Merchant ships were introduced in the spring of 1941. These were fitted with a launch rail from which Hurricats – catapult launched Hurricanes -could be given a rocket assisted take off whilst in mid ocean. Apart the hazards inherent in such a procedure there was the problem of recovering the pilot after he completed his task of defending the convoy. There was no way of recovering the aircraft to these merchant ships – these were single use planes. The pilot was expected to ditch in the sea and hope to be picked up by one of the convoy escorts.
On the 3rd August 1941 Flight Lieutenant Everett from No. 804 Squadron launched from HMS Maplin and shot down the first German aircraft by this method. He ditched in the sea and just managed to escape from his aircraft as it sank immediately – and was picked up by a destroyer.