A History of HMS AVENGER
Swordfish Mk.Iis from 825 squadron aboard HMS Avenger c.
AVENGER was originally laid down at the yard of the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Chester Pennsylvania, on November 28th 1939 as a 9,100 ton C3 type passenger-cargo vessel the RIO HUDSON. She was Maritime Commission hull number 59, Sun number 186; One of four sister ships of the “Rio” class, RIO HUDSON, RIO
PARANA, RIO DE LA PLATA, RIO DE JANEIRO ordered from the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines to operate on the lines South American routes. The “Rio” ships had 17,500 tons loaded displacement, and loaded draft of 27 feet 4 inches. Each ship was designed to accommodate 196 passengers and have 440,000 bales cubic feet cargo space, including 40,000 cubic feet for refrigerated cargo.
The RIO HUDSON was launched on November 27th 1940 and was christened by Mrs. Warren Lee Pierson, wife of the President of the Export-Import Bank,. All four “Rio” ships were to be purchased by the US Navy for conversion into a modified 'Long Island' class Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier; RIO HUDSON was requisitioned on May 20th 1941 while still fitting out and was delivered 80% complete on July 7th 1941. She was delivered to the US Navy on July 31st 1941 at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation shipyard, Staten Island, New York for conversion.
Three sisters: The Rio Hudson (HMS Avenger),
Rio Parana (HMS Biter), and Rio de la Plata
(HMS Charger) on the slips at the Sun Shipbuilding &
Drydock Co., Chester, PA, USA
Conversion to a warship
Her conversion consisted of installing a
lightweight wooden flight deck on a truss work superstructure which
covered 70% of the ships' length, fitting a small enclosed hangar
beneath the aft of the flight deck to be serviced by a single lift.
AVENGER like her predecessor ARCHER, had no island superstructure; a
small navigation bridge was built under the forward edge of the flight
deck while the original bridge was retained under the flight deck with
enlarged wings on either side to give adequate visibility Her conversion
into a carrier was completed on March 1st 1942 and she was transferred
to the Admiralty and commissioned into the Royal Navy at Staten Island
as HMS AVENGER (D14) on 2 March 1942, Cdr. A. P. Colthurst RN in command.
HMS AVENGER began sea trials of New
York in March, breaking sown on the 18th and returning to Staten Island
for repairs. On completion of her sea trials Avenger sailed from New
York on April 30th with tanker convoy AT15. Upon her arrival in the
Clyde in May 1942 further modifications took place, these included
lengthening the flight-deck by 42 feet to allow Swordfish aircraft to
take off with a full weapons and fuel load, changes to defensive
armament and communications equipment. Work commenced on May 11th, and
was completed by early July.
Russian Convoys PQ18/QP14
On July 16th 1942 Avenger was allocated to the Home Fleet and began
working up in the Irish Sea; 883 squadron (6 Sea Hurricane Ib) embarked
RNAS Machrihanish on the same date to begin working up the ship's
air department. Proceeding to the Orkneys Avenger embarked her second
quadroon, 825 (9 Swordfish II) from RNAS Hatston, on July 22nd, 802
squadron (6 Sea Hurricane Ib) made a brief visit to the ship on the
13th-15th of July for familiarisation and DLTs from
RNAS Machrihanish, this unit was to join AVENGER on September 2nd
for convoy escort duties.
Sea Hurricane MK.Ibs from 883 squadron aboard HMS
Avenger c. September 1942. Image © IWM (FL 1268)
HMS AVENGER completed her work up period on August 17th 1942 and began
preparations for her first voyage on active duty, providing air cover
for convoy PQ18 to Northern Russia. Following the disastrous events of
PQ17 which was severely mauled by German forces (11 of 35 merchant ships
survived) PQ18 had an increased escorting force strength, including
Avenger for air cover. Close escort was provided by 20 warships
including AVENGER and her two escorting destroyers. Close cover was
given by the Anti Aircraft cruiser HMS SCYLLA (Flag, Rear-Admiral R L
Burnett) and 16 fleet destroyers. In addition distant cover was
available in the form of the Battleships DUKE OF YORK and ANSON, the
Cruiser JAMAICA, and Destroyers BRAMHAM, KEPPEL, MACKAY and MONTROSE
AVENGER participated in operation 'EV'
from September 2nd joining the escort group for PQ18, a convoy
comprising of 39 merchant ships which departed from Loch Ewe on
September 2nd , reaching Hvalfjord, Iceland on the 8th before
heading for Murmansk. Avenger and her escorts left PQ18 on the 13th
to pick up the UK bound OP14.
Convoy QP14 sailed on September 13th to
gain the protection of AVENGER and Admiral Burnett's AA cruiser and
destroyer force. The force covered the fifteen ships of the convoy
to Sedisfjord, Iceland; several of these vessels were survivors of
PQ17, also two rescue ships, ZAMALEK, and RATHLIN, and a fleet oil
tanker the GRAY RANGER. During this period AVENGER's aircraft shot
down 5 enemy aircraft for the loss of 5 Sea Hurricanes and a single
Swordfish with the loss of 1 pilot. A Swordfish from 825 Squadron
shared in the sinking of U-589 with surface escort HMS ONSLOW on the
14th, surface escorts sank a further 2 U-boats in the course of
several running battles; September 12th south of Spitzbergen, the
destroyer HMS FAULKNOR sank U-88, and on the 16th HMS IMPULSIVE sank
U-457 in the Barents Sea north-east of Murmansk. Of the 15 vessels
in the convoy 12 reached Iceland, the convoy arrived at Loch Ewe on
Sea Hurricane MK.Ib from 883 squadron on the lift of HMS
Avenger c. September 1942. Image © IWM (A 10982)
HMS AVENGER arrived in
Scapa Flow on September 24th disembarking her squadrons to RNAS
Hatston on the 25th to replenish aircraft and complete repairs, 802
re-equipping with 9 Sea Hurricane IIbs. On October 16th 802 and 883
squadrons re-embarked from Hatston and AVENGER sailed for the Clyde.
Avenger sailed with the slow element of convoy KMS1 from Loch Ewe on
October 22nd, bound for Algiers; she embarked 'B' Flight of 833
squadron (3 Swordfish II) from
RNAS Machrihanish on October 23rd to provide an ASW element to
her air group.
Reaching Gibraltar in
November Avenger disembarked her ASW element, 833 being put ashore
to RN Air Section North Front. Avenger now prepared fro her role as
a Fighter carrier as a part of operation "Torch", the North African
landings. There were three RN Task force elements taking part, Force
'H' comprising of Fleet carrier group of FORMIDABLE and VICTORIOUS;
Centre Naval Task group (covering Oran) comprising of the Fleet
carrier FURIOUS and CVEs
DASHER and Eastern Naval Task group (covering Algiers)
Fleet carrier HMS ARGUS with AVENGER. The landings took place on the
night of 7th/8th November 1942.
The Sea Hurricanes of
ARGUS and AVENGER made strikes against coastal defences and the
airfields of Blida and Maison Blanche; operations went faster than
anticipated and the Vichy French forces were subdued within days. On
November 10th AVENGER transferred her remaining serviceable Sea
Hurricanes (4) to ARGUS (which had 7 remaining serviceable) before
entering the newly occupied Port of Algiers for engine repairs; her
speed had been reduced to 14 Knots due to engine defects.
AVENGER was ready for
sea again by the 12th, leaving Algiers early in the morning to form
yup with the UK with convoy MKF 1(Y). This convoy comprised of
vessels that had taken part in operation 'TORCH', including the
empty troop transports DEMPO, ETTRICK, LETITIA, ORBITA, MACHARDA,
ULSTER MONARCH, and WARWICK CASTLE along with heavy equipment
transports USS ALMAACK and the USS SAMUEL CHASE (convoy commodore)
The escort group had AVENGER and ARGUS for air cover.
This convoy reached
Gibraltar Harbour on the morning of November 14th before sailing for
the UK at 1800 hours. The convoy came under attack 45 nautical miles
south of Cape Santa Maria, Portugal. Shortly after 0305 on the
morning of the 15th, the convoy escort commander ordering an
immediate turn to starboard, detecting a U-Boat in the area; U-155
was at that moment preparing to fire torpedoes, and was forced to
fire from a considerably longer distance that originally planned.
The submarines commander fired two torpedoes at this longer range,
and a third shortly after as the range closed. The first ship hit
was the USS ALMAACK, she was hit as she steadied on the new heading,
and moments later a second ship, the HMTS ETTRICK the third torpedo
struck HMS AVENGER port side amidships at 03:20 (GMT). This was a
catastrophic hit for AVENGER the resulting explosion ripped through
her Bomb Room and ignited the munitions stored there; the ship
literally had her guts torn out by the resulting secondary
explosions. The centre section of the ship gone her bow and stern
sections rose in the air as her back broke; HMS AVENGER sunk in
under 5 minutes with only 12 survivors. AVENGER's Commanding
Officer, 67 Officers and 446 ratings were lost.
Writing to the Admiralty Lieutenant Commander N. F.
Kingscote, Commanding Officer of the HMS ULSTER MONARCH, wrote;
"At 0315, a vivid reddish flash appeared on the Starboard side of
AVENGER stretching the whole length of the ship and lasting for
about 2 seconds. This flash made a perfect silhouette of the ship,
and was followed by a pall of black smoke."
"After the flash, nothing more was seen of AVENGER but one or two
small twinkling lights were observed in the water, obviously from
floats. H.M.S. ULSTER MONARCH passed over the position of AVENGER
within 3 minutes and nothing was seen...."
The Destroyer HMS GLAISDALE searched until dawn, but found only the
Petty Officer J. F. Davis, FX80202;
Petty Officer L. Mawson, FX75504;
Leading Radio Mechanic P. J. Greenwood, FX88186;
Air Mechanic B. Burgess, , FX78537;
Air Mechanic A. Greenfield, FX2686;
Air Mechanic J. C. Norris, FX78226;
Able Seaman C. J. Brackie, C/JX241076;
Able Seaman T. H. Jacob., C/JX178752;
Able Seaman A. J. Mace, C/JX145316;
Able Seaman N. McGregory, 313809;
Able Seaman W. W. Russell, C/JX181140;
Ordinary Seaman W. F. Whitmore, C/JX350872.
11 June 2020
Sources used in compiling this account:
Click here for a list of
Fold3.com various documents including;
Admiralty War Diaries
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