Tag Archives: Winkle Brown

Warship Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle & the Forgotten Ocean

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Oct.5, 2022: Hoagy, Shmoo, Winkle and the Forgotten Ocean

U.S. National Archives photo 80-G-446967

Above we see the crew of the British Colossus-class light aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) on deck for an inspection by Field Marshal Earl Alexander, the British Defense Minister, on 14 June 1952. Ocean was at the time off the Korean coast– a peninsula where she was highly active some 70 years ago– and she has Hawker Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fairey Fireflys of 825 Squadron aboard. It looks like the light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) is off her stern.

Ocean is often forgotten when it comes to British carriers, as it seems everyone just cares about the ones that were active in WWII and the Falklands and forgot about everything between 1946 and 1982, however, she was important in naval history– being the first flattop to host a jet (intentionally) as well as probably the last to have a combat-ready biplane take off from her deck. As you can tell in the above, she also saw a good bit of combat as well.

Ocean was one of 16 planned “1942 Design Light Fleet Carriers” for the RN. This series, broken up into Colossus and Majestic-class sub-variants, were nifty 19,500-ton, 695-foot-long carriers that the U.S. Navy would have classified at the time as a CVL or light carrier. They were slower than the fast fleet carriers at just 25 knots with all four 3-drum Admiralty boilers lit and glowing red, but they had long legs (over 14,000 miles at cruising speed) which allowed them to cross the Atlantic escorting convoys, travel to the Pacific to retake lost colonies or remain on station in the South Atlantic or the Indian Ocean for weeks.

The classes’ 1946 Jane’s entry with 12 of the 16 sisters listed.

Capable of carrying up to 45 piston engine aircraft of the time, these carriers had enough punch to make it count.

The thing is, only seven of these carriers were completed before the end of World War II and even those came in during the last months and weeks. They effectively saw no service. Laid down beginning in 1942, most of the ships were launched but when the war ended, construction was canceled. Two were completed as a peculiar RN invention of a “maintenance carrier,” intended just to repair and ferry but not operate aircraft. Some were immediately transferred to expanding Commonwealth fleets. Suddenly, the Australians, Canadians, and Indians became carrier operators. The Dutch (later passed on to the Argentines) and Brazilians soon followed. Class leader HMS Colossus was even sold to France as Arromanches.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Our Ocean, a long time coming

The fifth HMS Ocean in the Royal Navy since 1761 was laid down in Scotland on 8 November 1942 at Alexander Stephen & Sons Limited in Glasgow. However, she was a slow build-out and wasn’t launched until after D-Day, with the Australians showing an interest in acquiring her. (While the Australian deal fell through, they did ultimately operate no less than three of her sisters after the war.)

Ocean was captured by noted English painter, Sir Henry George “Harry” Rushbury, at the time, while Sir Henry was working as an official war artist– a job the 56-year-old had done in the Great War as well– around the port of Glasgow.

Shipbuilding, Glasgow, a view looking up at the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) under construction from the quayside. A crane transporting a component onto the deck of the ship looms above while cables and wires cross from the ship to the quay, by Sir Henry Rushbury, 1944. © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23522

This left the Admiralty to commission Ocean on 8 August 1945, three months after the war ended in Europe and just a week before the surrender of the Empire of Japan in World War II was announced by Emperor Hirohito on 15 August.

The aircraft carrier HMS Ocean at sea, late 1945. IWM A 30618

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JULY 1945, AT SEA. (A 30619) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205161723

Although it had been intended to rush her to join the British Pacific Fleet as a dedicated night fighter carrier in the last push to take down Japan, that plan evaporated soon after she was commissioned and Ocean, therefore, spent the rest of 1945 in home waters at Rosyth as a trials ship, including the final embarkation of the iconic Fairey Swordfish “Stringbag” torpedo bomber that had won laurels at Taranto and against the Bismarck early in the war.

Capable of just 140 knots when wide open, while dated when it came to any sort of warfare in WWII, the Fairey Swordfish became a formidable ASW asset against surfaced U-Boats due to their low-speed and stable flight. Ocean was the last British carrier to operate the type. IWM A 24981

She was also the trials ship for the new twin-engine De Havilland Sea Hornet F.20, with prototype PX219– the full naval version– conducting carrier deck trials on board Ocean in late 1945 with renowned test pilot Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown at the controls. The plane was notable for being the fastest production piston-engine aircraft ever put into service.

The Sea Hornet was designed with cues from the successful De Havilland DH98 Mosquito and powered by a pair of massive 2,070 hp Merlin engines. Brown would later describe it as “Like flying a Ferrari in the sky.”

Winkle Brown also made a bit more history on Ocean in 1945, just before the year was out.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, on 3 December 1945.

Peacetime service

Deployed to the Mediterranean Fleet in late 1945 with a wing of Seafires and Fireflys, Ocean left her aircraft behind in Malta to run troops to Singapore the next summer, then responded that October to the stricken destroyers HMS Saumarez (G12) and HMS Volage (R41), both of which had been damaged by Albanian infernal devices while conducting mine-clearing operations in the Corfu Channel.

HMS OCEAN, BRITISH LIGHT FLEET CARRIER. JUNE 1948, GRAND HARBOUR, MALTA. (A 31456) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162475

In 1948, Ocean covered the British withdrawal from their troublesome Palestine mandate-– leaving the Jews and the Arabs to fight it out in the war that followed.

A rare sight post-1945: three British carriers at sea. HMS Ark Royal (R09), HMS Albion (R07), and the little HMS Ocean (R68) bringing up the rear. IWM

Korea

With the balloon going up at the 38th parallel in June 1950, Ocean’s sister, HMS Triumph, happened to be in Japanese waters with the rump occupation fleet of Task Force 95 and soon, in conjunction with the American Essex-class fleet carrier USS Valley Forge (CV-45), was performing air strikes on North Korean airfields within a week of the outbreak of the conflict. By October, another sister, HMS Theseus arrived in the Yellow Sea to join her, with her two dozen Sea Furys logging almost 500 sorties a month by December and a whopping 3,500 sorties in just 86 days. 

Soon, Ocean was being prepped to head to the Pacific to give her sisters some relief.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION. 1951, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN AS SHE RECEIVED HER NEW COMMISSION TO JOIN THE MEDITERRANEAN FLEET. (A 31944) Some of the aircraft of Nos 807, 810, and 898 Squadrons, were stowed on HMS OCEAN’s flight deck after the first landing on the light fleet carrier’s new commission. HMS OCEAN sailed from Portland and joined the 2nd Aircraft Carrier Squadron at Malta on August 3rd. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162892

HMS Ocean. Firefly F.R.5s of 810 squadron ranged on deck, engines running ready for takeoff. Commander (Flying) observes from FlyCo. Working up in the Mediterranean from September 1951 to April 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

On April 5th, 1952, HMS Ocean passes the liner Empress of Australia while leaving Grand Harbor, Malta for the Far East. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

HMS Ocean passing through the Suez Canal on passage to East Asia, May 1952. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

Her first tour off Korea would run from May to November 1952, with Sea Furys of 802 Squadron and Fireflys of 825 Squadron embarked.

ON BOARD HMS OCEAN DURING OPERATIONS IN KOREAN WATERS. 10 JULY 1952. (A 32250) A Firefly of 825 Squadron landing on HMS OCEAN on return from attacking enemy targets. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163137

HMS OCEAN IN KOREA, 1952 – 1953 (KOR 32) A Hawker Sea Fury, with RATOG (Rocket Assisted Take Off Gear), taking off from the carrier HMS OCEAN in Sasebo Harbour, Japan. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205191739

THE ADMIRAL PAID A VISIT. 11 JULY 1952, ON BOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN. DURING PATROLS OFF KOREA REAR ADMIRAL A K SCOTT-MONCRIEFF, DSO, FLAG OFFICER SECOND IN COMMAND, FAR EAST STATION, TRANSFERRED FROM HIS FLAGSHIP HMS BELFAST TO HMS OCEAN AND SPENT 4 DAYS ABOARD WHILE HER AIRCRAFT ATTACKED TARGETS IN NORTH WEST KOREA. (A 32243) HMS OCEAN at speed, with planes ranged on deck, in the Yellow Sea. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016293

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32259) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016296

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF, AND ONBOARD THE LIGHT FLEET CARRIER HMS OCEAN, AS SHE TOOK PART IN OPERATION PRESSURE PUMP, TARGETING THE NORTH KOREAN CAPITAL OF PYONGYANG. (A 32261) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016298

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32262) Sea Furies and Fireflies ranged on the flight deck of HMS OCEAN. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205163145

HMS OCEAN TAKES PART IN LARGE RAID ON PYONGYANG. 11 JULY 1952, (A 32260) HMS OCEAN at speed about to catapult her aircraft. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205016297

The Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Belfast (C35) approaching the aircraft carrier HMS Ocean (R68) off Korea, before the transfer of RADM Alan Kenneth Scott-Moncrieff, Flag Officer, Second in Command, Far East Station from his flagship Belfast to Ocean to observe air operations against targets in north-west Korea. IWM A 32244

HMS Ocean at flying stations, a Sea Fury is on the catapult ready to launch. Via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

West coast of Korea. At least 33 Sea Furys and Fireflies with WWII D-day style invasion stripes were applied to avoid misidentification as North Korean aircraft, ready to launch as part of Operation Pressure Pump, on 11 July 1952, targeting railways outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. IWM KOR 27

On 9 August 1952, FAA LT Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, who flew Corsairs at the end of WWII, was at the controls of his Sea Fury and logged the only official victory of a piston-engine aircraft over a jet fighter during the Korean War. His four-plane section was attacking railroad facilities near Chinnampo when they were jumped by eight MiG-15s, leaving at least one of the latter burned into the countryside and two others reportedly smoking. While today the kill is usually credited to Carmichael’s young No. 4, Sub-LT Brian “Shmoo” Ellis, the fact remains that on that day a Sea Fury from Ocean bested a MiG and all four British aircraft returned safely to their carrier, where they received a “pretty euphoric” welcome, whereas the MiGs could not say the same. 

From 802 Squadron’s War Diary for the Day: 

Lieutenant Carmichael, Lieutenant Davis and Sub-Lieutenants Haines and Ellis started the ball rolling this morning by flying the first AR of the patrol. By 0600 they had entered the area and had commenced their Hanchon and Pyongyang to Chinnampo rail search. By 0630 they had reconnoitered as far south as Chinji-ri, a small village about 15 miles north of Chinnampo. As they meandered down the line, checking the bridge state as they went, they suddenly saw eight jet bogies to the north. Almost immediately the bogies were identified as MiGs – and were closing. By this time drop tanks were fluttering earthwards and the flight had assumed proper battle formation and No.4 – Sub Lieutenant Ellis – had noticed a shower of red tracer streaming past both sides of his fuselage. He cried “Break” over the R/T and the flight commenced a “Scissors”. It was soon apparent that four MiGs were after each section of two Furies but by continuing their break turns our aircraft presented practically impossible targets to the enemy who made no attempt to bracket.

‘On one occasion a MiG came head-on to Lieutenant Carmichael and Sub Lieutenant Haines – they both fired –  it broke away and proceeded to go head-on to Lieutenant Davies and Sub Lieutenant Ellis – they both fired and registered hits. On another occasion, a MiG pulled up in front of Ellis with its air brakes out and he was amused to find the range closing. He gave a long burst and noticed hits on the enemy’s wings. The aircraft then proceeded northwards and a reduced speed with two other MiGs in company. Meanwhile, the flight, still in its battle formation, managed a dozen or so more firing passes at the MiGs head-on. The dog fight lasted 4-5 minutes and then the MiGs disappeared as quickly as they had arrived – as they departed an aircraft was seen to crash into a hillside and blow up. At first Lieutenant Carmichael thought it was one of his flight and ordered a tell-off. However when No.4 came up “loud and clear” it was realized that the Royal Navy had shot down its first communist aircraft. Lieutenant Carmichael as flight leader is being credited with its destruction officially but the rest of the flight are claiming their quarter as well’

“Sea Fury – MiG Encounter” by Robert Taylor: Flying an 805 Sqn. Sea Fury from HMS Ocean in Korean waters, 1952, Hoagy Carmichael became the first piston engine pilot to destroy a jet aircraft during the war, when he downed a North Korean MiG-15.

Royal Navy Fairey Firefly FR.IV from 825 Naval Air Squadron flying a reconnaissance mission from HMS Ocean (R68) along the eastern seaboard of Korea. 16 September 1952. IWM KOR29

In all, Ocean would log 5,945 sorties in her first Korean tour, dropping 3,884 500/1000-pound bombs and launching 16,490 rockets– not bad for a light carrier with just two squadrons of single-engine aircraft embarked.

After some downtime, she would return to Korean waters from May to November 1953 with two new squadrons aboard– 807 (Sea Furys) and 810 (Firefly).

The British and Australians would keep a light carrier or two off Korea throughout the conflict, all from the same class. Besides Theseus, Triumph, and Ocean, HMS Glory would clock in for a tour in 1951 while the Australian HMAS Sydney would also get into the act. Lending a hand, the Canadian sister, HMCS Warrior, transported replacement aircraft to Korea from Britain. Another sister, the Centaur-class maintenance carrier HMS Unicorn (I72), spent most of the war ferrying aircraft, troops, stores, and equipment in support of Commonwealth efforts in Korea and became likely the only aircraft carrier in history to conduct a shore bombardment when she engaged North Korean observers coastwatchers at Chopekki Point with her QF 4-inch Mk XVIs.

In all, FAA and RAN pilots flew at least 25,366 sorties from these budget flattops during the Korean conflict.

The war is over – HMS Ocean moored at Sasebo in October 1953.

HMS Ocean with her paying off pennant streaming from her mast sailing from Sasebo on October 31st, 1953, for the voyage home to the UK, via The Royal Navy Research Archive.

One last hurrah for Empire!

By January 1954, with a glut of flattops and peace in Korea, the Admiralty decided that Ocean and her sister Theseus should be re-tasked from operating fixed-wing aircraft and refitted for helicopters and a battalion-sized element of marines, then deemed “Commando Carriers,” a concept akin to a U.S. CVHE of the period or later LPH.

HMS OCEAN’S NEW COMMISSION (circa August 1954). (A 31947) Naval air-sea rescue Supermarine Supermarine Sea Otter taxis into a pickup position alongside HMS OCEAN before being hoisted on board. The Supermarine Sea Otter was the last biplane amphibian in Fleet Air Arm service. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205162895

This brings us to the Suez Crisis (Operation Musketeer). After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, our two new commando carriers were part of the Anglo-French intervention, embarking troops and stores for passage to Cyprus and then on to North Africa. There, Whirlwinds and Sycamores from their decks took part in an early combat experiment in vertical envelopment from the sea, seizing Port Said.

Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) is shown with a crowded deck of Westland Whirlwind and Bristol Sycamore helicopters of the joint RAF/Army unit which operated alongside Royal Navy helicopters from her flight deck, November-December 1956. Note the French hospital ship in the background. IWM A 33639.

A member of 45 Royal Marine Commando priming a grenade [actually a mortar bomb] before disembarking from HMS THESEUS for the landing beaches at Port Said. Note his sand goggles, Pattern 37 webbing, and Denison smock– all looking very WWII. IWM A 33636.

Captain Griffiths inspecting troops of 45 Royal Marine Commando in full battle equipment, preparatory to their being landed at Port Said from HMS THESEUS. Note the desert goggles and MK V STEN gun of the Marine closest to the camera as well as the 2-inch patrol mortar with bomb tubes on deck. A 33635

British Royal Marines of 45 Commando loading into Royal Navy Westland Whirlwinds aboard the Colossus-class light fleet carrier HMS Theseus (R64) to assault Egyptian positions during the Suez

Royal Navy Westland Whirlwind helicopters taking the first men of 45 Royal Marine Commando into action at Port Said from the commando carrier HMS Theseus (R64) during “Operation Musketeer”. November 1956. IWM A 33640.

A Westland Whirlwind helicopter of the joint Royal Air Force/Army unit is leaving the Royal Navy commando carrier HMS Ocean (R68) with troops for Port Said during the Suez Crisis. November 1956. IWM A 33643

With the Egyptian affair wrapped up, the British chose to pull back “West of Suez” in 1956 and, other than a Baltic cruise that gave the Soviets some heartburn when she called at Helsinki, just over the horizon from Leningrad, Ocean’s days were numbered. Just 13 years old, she was laid up in 1958 and soon nominated for disposal, being sold for scrap in 1962.

Epilogue

Few relics of Ocean remain today.

A large scale model of Ocean is on display in the city of her birth, housed at the Glasgow Transport Museum.

She is remembered in maritime art.

“Ocean Firefly” HMS Ocean in the Korean war, by Roy Gargett

She was outlived by the legends that flew from her deck. 
 
“Winkle” Brown went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops. He died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years. The Vampire he landed on Ocean is preserved at Yeovilton. 
 

Captain Eric M. Brown with his De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

 
Commander Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael, OBE, DSC, would go on to command 806 Squadron in the 1960s and retire from service in 1984. He passed in 1997, aged 73. His young No. 4 over Chinnampo (now known as Nampo) in 1952, Sub-LT Brian “Schmoo” Ellis, was still alive as late as 2018 and being hailed for his deeds over Korea. (For the record when it comes to prop vs. jet combat, a Marine Corsair of VMA-312 would also later down a MiG in Korea and U.S. Navy Skyraiders would bag a MiG-17 over Vietnam on at least two occasions in the mid-1960s)
 
Meanwhile, Ocean’s four hard-working Korean War squadrons– 802 NAS and 807 NAS (Sea Fury); along with 810 NAS and 825 NAS (Fireflys)– would endure for the most part long past the time their carrier was scrapped: 
 
  • 802 Squadron would fly Sea Hawk FB5s from HMS Albion on top cover during Suez and was then disbanded in 1959. 
  • 807 Squadron would upgrade to Supermarine Scimitars and became well-known for running their new jets hot in airshows across the UK. They would also fire the first British Sidewinder in 1961. 
  • 810 Squadron would fly Hawker Sea Hawks from HMS Bulwark in the Suez, ending several Egyptian MiGs on the runway. Later flying Fairey Gannets before transitioning to become a rotary winged unit, they would fly Sea Kings as late as 2001. 
  • 825 Squadron became a helicopter squadron in 1960 and, after flying Sea Kings during the Falklands, is still around as the Royal Navy’s Operational Conversion Unit for the new AW159 Wildcat. 

As for Ocean’s sisters, the last of her class in the Royal Navy, Triumph, was kept around as a repair ship until 1975 and then scrapped. The Australians kept HMAS Melbourne (R21)/ex-HMS Majestic, on hand until 1980, including using her with A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers in the Vietnam-era (her bones, sold for scrap for a paltry A$1.4 million, would be slowly picked over by the Chinese for 15 years, jump-starting their domestic carrier program). The third-hand ex-HMS/HMAS Vengeance/ex-NAeL Minas Gerais, also a Skyhawk/Tracker carrier, was sold for scrap by the Brazilian owners in 2004, torched to man-portable pieces on the beach at Alang. The Indian ex-INS Vikrant/ex-HMS Hercules, which has used Sea Harriers as late as 1997, was saved briefly as a museum ship and then scrapped in 2014 ending the era of these well-traveled light carriers. While no less than five American carriers of the same vintage are preserved, there are no British-built carriers as museum ships.

The Admiralty in 1993, perhaps in recognition of Ocean’s work as a commando carrier at Suez, named the new 23,000-ton Vickers-built one-of-a-kind helicopter carrier HMS Ocean (L12). Although not capable of launching heavily loaded Sea Harriers due to the fact she didn’t have a ski-jump, the new Ocean would for a time be the only British flattop in operation, following the decommissioning of the old Harrier carrier HMS Illustrious (R06) in 2014.

Capable of hosting as many as 20 helicopters including a mix of Wildcats, Merlins, Chinook, and Apaches, HMS Ocean (L12) was in active service with the Royal Navy between 1998 and 2018, the last four as its fleet flagship and the closest thing the Brits had to a carrier.

Decommissioned in 2018, both Brazil and Turkey wanted the ship with the former winning out. She currently operates as NAM Atlântico with an airwing of EC725s, S-70B Seahawks, and AS350s.

The Royal Navy has not had an “HMS Ocean” since, something that should change, in my opinion.


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Warship Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021: Hard Luck Flattop

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021: Hard Luck Flattop

Photo via the Fleet Air Arm Museum

Here we see German-built Norddeutscher Lloyd freighter Hannover, during the second part of her WWII service, as the Condor-killing Royal Navy auxiliary aircraft carrier (aka escort carrier) HMS Audacity (D10), the first of her type put into service. That short run ended 80 years ago this week, after an abbreviated six-month roll in the barrel.

Completed for the Bremen-based shipping company by Bremer Vulkan, Vegesack in early 1939, the 5,600-ton steamer was built for the “Banana Boat” route through Central America and the Caribbean, carrying a mix of cargo and third-class passengers. She was the third “Hannover” built for NDL, with the first, built in 1869, scrapped in 1894, and the second, a 7,300-ton vessel constructed in 1899, ceded to Britain as war reparation after Versailles then repurchased by NGL in 1922, returning to Bremen – New York crossings until she was laid up in 1926 then scrapped during the global depression in 1933.

Via Lloyds, 1939 edition, showing NDL’s third, and final, Hannover, just under the Danish-flagged Hans Broge.

At sea in Latin American waters when the war started, Hannover crept around neutral areas– primarily in Curacao– to remain ahead of Allied warships and eventually make it through the blockade back to Germany.

Her luck ran out after seven months while passing through the West Indies in the deep waters of the Mona Passage off the Dominican Republic. There, on 8 March 1940, the Canadian River-class destroyer HMCS Assiniboine (I 18) and the British light cruiser HMS Dunedin (D 93)— the latter fresh off of intercepting the German motor merchant Heidelberg (6530 grt) the week before which was scuttled by her crew west of the Windward passage to avoid capture– came across Hannover and, making the case that it was violating Pan-American Neutrality although it was still very near the Dominican Republic, moved in to capture the vessel.

Despite the German mariners’ efforts to set the ship ablaze and open her sea cocks, a crew from Assiniboine boarded the flaming and listing vessel and managed to save her.

SS Hannover as seen from HMCS ASSINIBOINE – 6 March 1940

Via The Naval and Military Museum, CFB Esquimalt: 

Immediately on being intercepted, Hannover’s crew, in the best tradition of blockade-runners, had set fire to the ship and completely wrecked the ship’s steering gear; some took to a boat and pulled for the shore.

Two hours after receiving the summons, Assiniboine was on the scene. She found the Hannover belching smoke and flames from her fore and after hatches, and the cruiser Dunedin close alongside with hoses pouring sea water into the stricken ship. At the gaff of the mainmast, the White Ensign flew above the Swastika and the Hannover’s Master and First Officer stood glumly on the bridge covered by an armed guard.

In a freshening on-shore wind, aside from the fire, the critical problem was the fact that the German was being rapidly carried close to the territorial waters of San Domingo, a neutral area. Although Hannover had by now a sharp list to starboard, Assiniboine secured on that side with a view to heading the burning ship seaward. However, the sea was such that the destroyer was threatened with serious damage, so a wire was passed and Assiniboine took her in tow, bow to bow, while Dunedin continued with much difficulty to keep close enough to make her hose lines effective.

Later that morning, Dunedin took over the tow while Assiniboine fire parties, still dressed in tropical whites, boarded the Hannover to bring the fire to closer quarters. While the burning ship swung and yawed, Assiniboine clung tenaciously to her side. Soon, Nature came to the assistance of the dogged firefighters in the form of a sudden tropical rain-storm.

The struggle went on for four days. As often happens with seamen, a humorous incident occurred 12 March that relieved for a moment the gravity of the salvage problem. From Dunedin to Assiniboine: “Close with all dispatch. Man overboard. Man is German attempting suicide.” Cdr. Mainguy wrote:

1425 – Sighted man swimming strongly.
1426 – Lowered whaler.
1430 – Whaler picked up man who requested the coxswain to shoot him. Coxswain regretted he had no gun.”
1500 – Evolution completed.

The Canadian towed the smoky, water-logged vessel into Kingston, Jamaica, turning her over to the port captain there on 13 March.

Welcome to the RN

Found to still be sound, the prize was requisitioned by the Admiralty and in November 1940 was converted to one of 20 or so “Ocean Boarding Vessels,” a type of lightly-armed auxiliary cruiser tasked to enforce the blockade and release HMs destroyers and cruisers from such work. In this, she was dubbed HMS Sinbad. Her main fixed armament was a Great War-era 4″/45 QF Mark V, backed up by an even older 6-pounder Hotchkiss, and a mix of 40mm (Vickers) and 20mm (Oerlikon) AAA guns to ward off long-reaching German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol aircraft.

However, this service was short-lived and, in January 1941 she was selected for deployment as the first merchant ship to be converted for use as an escort carrier.

After a four-month conversion at Blyth Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company (Cowpen Quay), Northumberland, which saw her superstructure removed and covered over by a flat deck sans any sort of traditional aircraft carrier “island” or bridge structure, she became HMS Empire Audacity on 17 June 1941 for service in Western Approaches for convoy defense.

Audacity, 1941. IWM 1203

With no hangar deck, she didn’t need any elevators and it was thought she could support as many as eight single-engined aircraft, be they Swordfish torpedo/strike planes or fighters. She was also fitted with one of the first early Type 79 radars.

HMS Audacity underway in coastal waters, 1941. IWM FL 1204

After acceptance and trials in the Clyde area, she marked her first deck landing with a Grumman Martlet (F4F-4 Wildcat) of 802 Squadron on 10 July. Formed in 1933 from 408 and 409 Fleet Fighter Flights, the squadron had just been reformed after being lost at sea aboard the carrier HMS Glorious on 8 June 1940 during the evacuation of Norway.

Martlet MkII British Fleet Air Arm (F4F Wildcat) of No. 888 Squadron, parked at La Senia airbase, Oran, Algeria, 14 December 1942. Some 1,123 Fleet Air Arm Martlets operated in all theatres of war including Norway, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Far East. USN photo

Her name was shortened to Audacity at the end of the month, dropping the “Empire.”

Joining five sloops and corvettes, the brand-new baby carrier became part of Convoy OG74 for passage to Gibraltar between 13 and 27 September, with six Martlets of 804 Squadron aboard. During the passage, U-124 and U-201 sank five of the 22 merchantmen, leaving Audacity to house 88 survivors. However, her fighters were able to draw blood, downing an Fw 200 Condor of KG40 during the trip.

Returning to Liverpool from Gibraltar with inward Convoy HG74, she made another run in November back to “The Rock” with OG76 in November, carrying six Martlets of 802 Squadron. 

That trip also saw a Wildcat vs Condor encounter.

From My Unofficial FAA History Page

8 November 1941 Lt Cdr J.M. Wintour (CO 802 NAS HMS Audacity) escorting Convoy OG76 to Gibraltar, shot down and killed while engaging a German Fw200 Condor. His wingman Sub Lt(A) D.A. Hutchison RN (pictured) took over the attack and the Condor crashed in flames.

Later that afternoon another Condor appeared. 802 NAS had one serviceable aircraft and another with a bent propeller. Hutchison took off again while Sub Lt(A) E.M. ‘Winkle’ Brown RNVR volunteered to fly the second aircraft, but the two got separated in cloud.

Brown intercepted two Fw200s and made four passes, including a head-on attack. The German bomber spun into the sea from a height of 10,000ft. The convoy reached Gibraltar without loss.

Sub-Lieutenant Eric M.Brown, R.N.V.R., Fleet Air Arm, with a Grumman Martlet Mk. I, circa 1941, during a time when he was assigned to Audacity

The Seerauber Gauntlet

Then came the homeward-bound HG76 Convoy, with 32 merchants headed from Gibraltar back to the Home Isles, escorted by a formidable force of 12 destroyers, sloops, and corvettes along with Audacity.

Audacity via Fleet Air Arm Museum, note the Martlets on her deck

Reported by German spies, 10 U-boats of reinforced Wolfpack Seerauber were waiting for the kill, sinking three small merchant ships of the convoy between the 19th and 21st of December. However, the British made them pay for it.

HG76 proved hairy for our little flattop, with Sub. Lt (A) Graham R.P. Fletcher RNVR, flying a Martlet of 802 NAS from the ship, becoming the first Fleet Air Arm aviator to be shot down by a submarine, when a damaged and surfaced U-131, her batteries leaking chlorine gas, was strafed by Fletcher and in turn downed by AAA fire from the U-boat’s 20mm and 37mm flak guns. Just 20 minutes later, U-131 went to the bottom and 47 of her crew were recovered. The Bittern-class sloop HMS Stork (L81) recovered fletcher’s body, and he was buried at sea the following morning– just before U-434 (Kptlt Heyda) was sunk by escorting destroyers.

On 19 December, as U-574 (Oblt Gengelbach) was rammed and sunk by the avenging Stork, Audacity’s aircrew managed to bag two further Condors.

By 21 December, Audacity’s luck ran out after the vessel’s Martlets chased off a second wave of Condors but, just after nightfall, was hit by a torpedo from U-751 (Kptlt. Gerhard Bigalk) that disabled her steering. While her crew was able to rush to control the damage, the dead in the water carrier proved too tempting a target for Bigalk not to take another bite, and he fired two more torpedoes into the vessel in a second run. These hit aviation fuel storage tanks and caused a massive explosion forward, which sent the carrier to the bottom.

Michael Turner’s illustration for Winkle Brown’s book sinking of the escort carrier HMS Audacity

She suffered at least 73 of her complement and embarked aircrew dead or missing, with the survivors picked up after over four hours fighting hypothermia in the freezing water. Of 802 Squadron, just two members were pulled from the water, including “Winkle” Brown. The squadron was disbanded for the *second time in two years.

Epilogue

U-751 would herself be sunk just seven months later, by depth charges from a British Whitley (502 Sqn RAF/H) and a Lancaster aircraft (61 Sqn RAF/F) taking all hands, including Bigalk, to the bottom.

The British would convert a few other, smaller, freighters to a similar layout as Audacity, with the four-vessel Avenger-class having a 190×47-foot below deck half hangar doubling their airwing to 15 single-engine fighters and strike aircraft (Swordfish and Avenger). Two of the four ships in the class were lost during the war with HMS Avenger (D14) sunk by U-155 off Gibraltar on 15 November 1942 and HMS Dasher (D37) lost in a mysterious explosion while in the Firth of Clyde.

HMS Avenger (D14) (converted 9,000-ton American type C3 Liberty ship SS Rio Hudson) underway in rough seas, date, and location unknown. Note the unusual camouflage scheme on her flight deck. Six Sea Hurricane IIC fighters are lined-up on the centerline. This image is often mistaken as one of Audacity. IWM FL 1268

*Of note, 802 Squadron, FAA, which had been lost almost to a man with Audacity, was re-formed at Yeovilton in February 1942 with Hawker Sea Hurricane Ibs, before embarking on Avenger for escorting Arctic Convoy PQ 18 in September– during which time five enemy aircraft were shot down and 17 damaged, in conjunction with 883 Squadron. The squadron was disbanded a third time after Avenger was lost two months later, certainly a tragic record of having been completely destroyed three times in three years. The squadron lay dormant till May 1945 when it was reformed at Arbroath with Supermarine Seafire L.IIIs and escaped further WWII service though it did see combat in Korea with “Hoagy” Carmichael famously downing a Nork MiG-15 with his Hawker Sea Fury.

Likewise, the Americans built their first escort carrier, USS Long Island (initially designated APV-1, but redesignated and commissioned as AVG-1, then later as Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier ACV-1 and finally CVE-1), between March and June 1941. A converted C3 Liberty, she looked a lot like the Avengers and Audacity

USS Long Island (AVG-1) underway on 8 July 1941, with two F2A Brewster Buffalo fighters parked at the forward end of her flight deck. Note flight deck markings: LI. The ship is painted in Measure 1 camouflage, with heavy weathering of paint evident on the hull side. 80-G-26567

No matter if you call them “jeep carriers,” or “Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable,” the escort carrier concept is one we have covered a few times in the past several years on WW. Besides one-off training carriers and prototype ships, four large classes of U.S.-built CVEs (Bogue, Sangamon, Casablanca, Commencement Bay) were cranked out during WWII, approaching 150~ hulls planned or completed for Uncle Sam and his Allies. And Audacity just beat Long Island to the punch, completing just a few days before the USN’s inaugural model although Long Island was the first to handle aircraft, having been underway with operational test aircraft only days before Audacity launched her first Martlet.

In Sept. 1981, a commemorative stamp was issued celebrating the 40th anniversary of the downing of Audacity’s first Condor via Martlet.

Speaking of Martlets, Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN, who claimed his first kill while flying one of the chunky Grumman fighters from Audacity’s deck in November 1941, went on to be dubbed the “world’s greatest test pilot,” a title he earned after flying a whopping 487 types (a record verified by Guinness) over his career, interrogating Goering, becoming the only Allied pilot to fly both the rocket-powered Me 163 and more advanced Me 262, and making 2,407 carrier traps while testing the arrestor wires on more than 20 British flattops.

On 4 December 1945, he made the world’s first carrier landing by a jet, bringing the second prototype De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, No. LZ551, aboard HMS Ocean.

De Havilland Sea Vampire Mk.10 LZ551G catches the arresting wire aboard HMS Ocean, 3 December 1945.

“Winkle” Brown died at Redhill, Surrey, England, on 21 February 2016, at the age of 97 years.

Captain Eric M. Brown with the De Havilland DH.100 Sea Vampire Mk.10, LZ551, at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton, Somerset, England. (Nigel Cheffers-Heard, Fleet Air Arm Museum)

As for Hannover’s former owners, during World War II, NDL lost their entire fleet and restarted in the late 1940s with chartered ships. In 1970 the company amalgamated with Hamburg America Line to become HAPAG-Lloyd.

Specs: 

(Hannover, Sinbad)
Tonnage 5,600 GRT
Length: 434 ft 9 in
Beam: 56 ft 1 in
Draft: 27 ft 7 in
Machinery: Two 7 cyl. 2S.C.DA oil engines built by Vulkan Vegesack, 5,200 hp
Speed: 17 knots

(Changes as Empire Audacity/Audacity)

Displacement: 11,000 long tons (11,000 t)
Length: 467 ft 3 in
Beam: 56 ft 3 in
Draft: 27 ft 6 in
Speed 14.5 knots
Complement: 298 officers and men including 24 airwing personnel
Radar: Type 79B air warning radar
Armament
1 × 4″/45 QF Mark V gun
1 × 57/40 6-pounder Hotchkiss Mk I
4 × 40/39 2-pounder Vickers QF Mk II anti-aircraft guns
4 × 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft cannons
Aviation facilities: Up to eight aircraft stowage spots on the deck, typically just embarked six


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