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Pennant Number:


D14

 


Battle Honours:


Artic 1942

North Africa 1942-43

 


Specifications: 


Builder:

Sun Shipbuilding & Dry-dock Co. Chester, Pennsylvania

 

Completed by:

Bethlehem Steel Corp,

Staten Island, New York


Tonnage:

14,500


length:

492 ft 3 in


Beam:

69 ft 6 in


Speed:

 18 knots


A/C Capacity:

16

 


Commanding Officers:


Cdr. A.P. Colthurst RN Dec 41 - Nov 42

 


Squadrons:


883

Jun -Nov 42

Sea Hurricane Ib/IIb

 

802

Jul - Nov 42

Sea Hurricane Ib/IIb

 

825

Jul - Sep 42

Swordfish I/II

 

833 B Flt

Oct-Nov 42

Swordfish II

 

 

 

 

 

 

A History of HMS AVENGER

 

Swordfish MK.IIs from 825 squadron aboard HMS Avenger c. September 1942

 

 

Laid down 28 November 1939 at Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Chester PA as Maritime Commission hull number 59, Sun number 86, as a 9,100 ton C3 type passenger-cargo vessel the Rio Hudson for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines. She was launched on 27 November 1940 and was completed 7 July 1941. The Rio Hudson was purchased by the US Navy 31 July 1941 for conversion into a modified ‘Long Island’ class Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier BAVG 2 by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Staten Island, New York.. [US Navy classification ‘BAVG’ designates her as ‘British Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier’]

 

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 sister ship 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.

 

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

 

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 from 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 andher 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 oft the Battleships H.M.S. Duke of York and Anson, the Cruiser H.M.S. Jamaica, and Destroyers H.M.S. 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 the 26th.

 

Sea Hurricane MK.Ib from 883 squadron on the lift of HMS Avenger c. September 1942. Image IWM (A 10982)

Operation ‘TORCH’
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 carriers Formidable and Victorious; Centre Naval Task group (covering Oran) comprising of the Fleet carrier Furious and CVEs Biter and Dasher; Eastern Naval Task group (covering Algiers) Fleet carrier HMS Argus with CVE 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 0320 (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 following survivors;
 

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.

 

 


Content revised: July 2008

Sources used in compiling this account:

Brown, D. (1974) ‘Carrier Operations in World War 2 – vol 1 the Royal Navy’ Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.

Hobbs, D. (2003) 'Royal Navy Escort Carriers' Liskeard, Maritime Books

Poolman, K. (1988) 'Allied Escort Carriers of World War Two in Action' London, Blandford Press

Poolman, K. (1972) 'Escort Carriers 1941 - 1945' Shepperton, Ian Allen Ltd.

Sturtivant, R. & Burrows, M. (1995) ‘Fleet Air Arm Aircraft 1939 to 1945’ Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

Sturtivant, R & Balance, T., (1994) ‘Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm’ Tonbridge Wells, Air Britain (Historians)

British officers (including Commonwealth officers serving in British units) Part of WWII Unit Histories and Officers web site.

Casualty Lists of the Royal Navy and Dominion Navies, 1922-present A comprehensive resource listing service details of men and women killed in RN and RM service.

Convoy Web A comprehensive resource listing WW2 convoys and ships .

War Sailors Ships in Atlantic and miscellaneous convoys during WW2.

 

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