Warship Wednesday April 27, 2016: The flattop who saw Dragoon and Dracula, among others
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday April 27, 2016: The flattop who saw Dragoon and Dracula, among others
Here we see the Smiter-class escort carrier HMS Khedive (D62) of the Royal Navy with Supermarine Seafire L.IIIs of RNAS 808 Squadron on the deck as she enters the Grand Harbour of Valletta in Malta. July 1944. Built in Seattle, she went on to put in hard work in several theaters for the King before getting back to her merchant roots.
With both Great Britain and the U.S. running desperately short of flattops in the first half of World War II, and large, fast fleet carriers taking a while to crank out, a subspecies of light and “escort” carriers, the first created from the hulls of cruisers, the second from the hulls of merchant freighters, were produced in large numbers to put a few aircraft over every convoy and beach in the Atlantic and Pacific.
Of the more than 122 escort carriers produced in the U.S. for use by her and her Allies, some 45 were of the Bogue-class. Based on the Maritime Commission’s Type C3-S-A1 cargo ship hull, these were built in short order at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, and by the Western Pipe and Steel Company of San Francisco.
Some 496-feet overall with a 439 foot flight deck, these 16,200-ton ships could make a respectable 18 knots which negated their use in fleet operations, but allowed them to more than keep up with convoys of troop ships and war supplies. Capable of self-defense with four twin Bofors and up to 35 20mm Oerlikons for AAA as well as a pair of 4-inch/50s for defense against small boats, they could carry as many as 28 aircraft in composite air wings. The ship carried two elevator, arresting gear and a catapult.
Most of the Bogue-class went right over to the Royal Navy via Lend-Lease, where they were known as the Ameer, Attacker, Ruler, or Smiter-class in turn, depending on their arrangement. This includes the hero of our tale.
Laid down at Sea-Tac 22 September 1942 as USS Cordova (AVG-39), she was commissioned 25 August 1943 into the Royal Navy as HMS Khedive (D62). As a latter Bogue/Smiter-class vessel, her armament concentrated more on 40mm guns, carrying eight twin Bofors rather than four as in earlier runs of the class, while trimming the 20mms down to just 20 single mounts and swapping out the 4″/50s for two 5″/51s.
After conversion at HM Canadian Dockyard Esquimalt, she embarked 12 Avengers and 10 Corsairs for the voyage through the Panama Canal to the UK where she received further conversion for use as an assault carrier at HM Dockyard Rosyth. While working up she suffered a collision with the 1,224-ton coaster SS Stuart Queen that sent her back for repairs.
Assigned to Task Group 88.1 with four of her sisterships for the upcoming invasion of Southern France (Operation Dragoon), she embarked 26 Seafires of 808 Naval Air Squadron and sailed for Malta in July 1944.
During the landings, her mini air wing carried out 201 sorties in just a week, conducting air attacks on shore targets and reconnaissance flights as well as providing Combat Air Patrols over landing area.
Following Dragoon, she was reassigned to the British Aegean Force but again was involved in a crack up with a merchie, the 7,200-ton SS Ocean Messenger, though it didn’t stop the baby flattop from carrying out air attacks on shipping and shore targets in Crete, Scarpanto and Rhodes in Operation Outing throughout September.
Shipping back for the UK as the Med was winding down; she was repaired and refitted in London before swapping out her Seafires for Hellcats, still flown by 808 Squadron. She sailed in 1945 for the East Indies Fleet, arriving at Trincomalee in February with a battalion of the Kings African Rifles shipping aboard.
April found her with Force 63 taking the fight to the Japanese in the Dutch East Indies where she conducted air operations that included photo-reconnaissance flights over Penang, Port Swettenham, Sumatra and Port Dickson, CAPs over the fleet (her air wing fought off a swarm of 10 Oscars on 11 April, scratching two of the Emperor’s aircraft for no loss of her own) and dropping bombs and .50 cal on enemy ships and positions throughout the archipelago.
She also had a few SAR aircraft aboard for plucking out those lost at sea.
May came reassignment to Force 61 and plastering the Andaman Islands then back to Force 63 to operate against airfields in Sumatra and shipping in Malacca Straits, going on to cover the landings in Malaya as the war wound down.
This led to the reoccupation of Rangoon in Operation Dracula in May, where 808 Squadron were in the air as the Jack was brought up the flagpole once more. For this, she operated as a forward staging base for Auster spotting planes flown by the Royal Artillery.
Khedive was part of the triumphant British Fleet that arrived at Singapore on 10 September to receive the Japanese surrender there under the overall command of Lord Mountbatten.
Codenamed Operation Tiderace, she kept a close eye on the some 40,000-tons of warships in the form of the Japanese destroyer Kamikaze, the busted up heavy cruisers Myōkō and Takao, and two ex-German U-boats taken up by the Japanese service as I-501 and I-502. Seven loaned jeep carriers provided the entire British air cover available for the operation, which would have been hard-pressed against the estimated 175 Japanese aircraft still found in semi-working order ashore (though short on gas and pilots) and the combined 150~ AAA guns of the two cruisers if they decided to fight it out.
A piece of borrowed kit from the U.S., Khedive was back in British Home Waters by Christmas 1945 and, after stripping away any RN-owned gear and landing her Hellcats, she arrived at Norfolk 26 January 1946 with a skeleton crew and was turned back over to the U.S. Navy.
The Navy, flush with carriers as it was, had no use for one more and in January 1947 the Maritime Administration sold her, sans carrier deck, sensors and armament, to the Gulf Shipbuilding Corp. of Mobile for a song. They quickly resold her hull to the Dutch shipping conglomerate Stoomvaart Maatschappij Nederland (SMN) who converted her back to a dry cargo ship configuration with 22 derricks and five holds capable of hauling 799,000 cu.ft of grain or a similar quantity of bales.
Sailing as SS Rempang (call sign PGZZ) from the Dutch East Indies and the Philippines to the U.S. West Coast and back as part of the Silver Java-Pacific Line, she could carry 13 first class passengers in five staterooms as well as a mixture of cargo.
By 1955, she was under charter to VNS, operating in European waters, and then in 1968 was sold to Italy’s Atlas cargo lines who operated her as the SS Daphne with a Panamanian flag.
This was short-lived as the aging freighter was passed on in 1970 to the Comoran Africa Line (Compagnie Maritime de L’Afrique Noire S.A) operating from the Ivory Coast on tramp runs for another few years
In January 1976, the former aircraft carrier was sold to Hierros Ardes, Gandia in Spain for her value in scrap.
As Khedive, she was the only ship to have used that name with Royal Navy, and earned four Battle Honours for her WWII service. As far as her 44 sisterships, from what I can tell she was the last hull still afloat when she went to the breakers, with her final sister, USS Breton (CVE-23), stricken for disposal on 6 August 1972, sold for scrap, and was shortly dismantled.
Khedive‘s wartime fighter squadron, 808, was equipped with Hawker Sea Furies for operations from HMAS Sydney off Korea and was then disbanded in 1958.
Reformed in 2011, 808 is part of the Royal Australian Navy flying newly-delivered NHI MRH-90 Taipan helicopters.
Displacement: 16,620 tons (full)
Length: 495 ft. 7 in (151.05 m)
flight deck: 439 ft. (134 m)
Beam: 69 ft. 6 in (21.18 m)
flight deck: 70 ft. (21 m)
Draught: 26 ft. (7.9 m)
2 × Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company Inc., Milwaukee geared steam turbines, 8,500 shp (6.3 MW)
2 × boilers
1 × shaft
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h)
Complement: 890 including airwing
Armament: (Ruler class)
2 × 5 in (127 mm) guns
8 × twin 40 mm Bofors
20 × single 20 mm Oerlikons
Aircraft carried 18-24
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