Unofficial Motto:

"VOLO UT MORDEAM"

Ready to attack

 


Pennant Number:


D97

 


Battle Honours:


Atlantic 1943-44
North Africa 43

 


Specifications: 


Builder:

Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company,
Chester, Pennsylvania

 

Completed by:

Atlantic Basin Iron Works, Brooklyn, New York


Displacement:

15,700 tons


length (Overall):

492ft


Beam:

 69 ft 6 in


Speed:

 16 knots


Crew Complement:

555


A/C Capacity:

16


Commanding Officers:


Capt. EMC Abel Smith
Jan 42 - Aug 43

 

***


Capt. L.A.K. Boswell RN
Jul 43 - Apr 44

 

**


Capt. A.N.C. Bingley RN
May 44 - Jun 44

 


Squadrons:


 

800

Oct-Nov 42

Sea Hurricane IIc

 

811

Feb 43 -Aug 44

Wildcat V/

Swordfish II

 

833 det

Sept 42

Swordfish I

 

833A

Oct-Nov 42

Swordfish II

 

 

 

 

 

A History of HMS BITER

 

HMS BITER as completed, moored at Greenock. Image IWM (A 16879)

 

Laid down 28 December 1939 at Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Chester PA as Maritime Commission hull number 60, Sun number 187, as a 9,100 ton C3 type passenger-cargo vessel the Rio Parana for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines. She was launched on 18 December 1940 and was completed 4 September 1941. The Rio Parana was purchased by the US Navy 20 May 1941 for conversion into a modified 'Long Island' class Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier BAVG 3 by Atlantic Basin Iron Works, Brooklyn, 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. BITER, unlike her sister ships Archer and Avenger, had a small island superstructure fitted. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS BITER (D97) on April 6th 1942 at Brooklyn, Captain Edward Michael Conolly Abel-Smith in command. She was officially completed on May 1st 1942.

 

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

 

Upon her arrival in the Clyde in June 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, and changes to defensive armament and communications equipment. On completion BITER was allocated to the Home Fleet and began her work her work up in late August. BITER embarked her first squadron, 833 NAS (6 Swordfish I) from RNAS Machrihanish on September 2nd. On September 11th a Seafire IB made the first deck landing by this type on an escort carrier. On completion of the work up period 833 disembarked to RNAS Stretton on September 30th

 

October 9th 1942 BITER embarked 800 NAS (15 Sea Hurricane IIb & IIC) from RNAS Hatston, they were joined by 'A' Flight of 833 (3 Swordfish I) on the 23rd. BITER sailed with convoy KMFA1 for Algiers departing the Clyde at 2100 B.S.T. on 26th October. This convoy and its slower contingent KMSO 1 - the slow convoy for Oran, which had sailed from the Clyde on Thursday, 22nd October with HMS Avenger comprised the invasion force elements for operation 'TORCH' the Allied landings in North Africa.

 

BITER on convoy protection duties, a Wildcat and Swordfish ranged forward, both have their wings folded. Photo: Author's collection.

 

From 30th October to 3rd November, aircraft from BITER conducted A/S patrols; at 1700 on 30th October a Swordfish sighted a U-Boat on the surface 25 miles out from the convoy but it dived before the aircraft could attack. BITER's last Swordfish became unserviceable on November 3rd landing on in a swell after the dusk patrol. BITER continued to conduct A/S patrols until the 7th when the aircraft of 833 went ashore to North Front. Later that day the convoys, now in the Mediterranean began to form up into their assault groups.

 

For this operation sae naval forces divided into three groups, Force H with Fleet carriers providing cover and air strikes, centre Naval Task Group operating against targets in and around Oran, and the Eastern Naval Task Group operating against targets in and around Algiers. BITER, with Furious and Dasher, formed part of the Centre Naval Task Group off Oran.

 

A group of six Sea Hurricanes from 800 & 802 squadrons shot down 5 Vichy D520 aircraft while escorting a dive-bombing strike on La Senia aerodrome, where the bulk of the enemy fighters were located, by eight Albacores of 882 NAS from Furious. The strike resulted in 47 of the enemy aircraft (eighty per cent) being put out of action or destroyed, but all six escorting Sea Hurricanes were lost in poor visibility in the target area; 5 managed to crash land in American held territory. Other sorties flown included TACR and combat air patrols.

 

On completion of operations, BITER returned to the UK with the empty convoy MKF.1X, sailing on November 12th bound for the Clyde, arriving there on the 19th; 800 squadron disembarked their remaining aircraft to RNAS Machrihanish on the same day to regroup. BITER under went a period of refit and modification next at Harland and Wolff's shipyard in Belfast.

 

On laving Belfast in the New Year, BITER became a Deck Landing Training carrier in the Firth of Clyde for two weeks before 811 NAS (6 Swordfish II & 3 Wildcat IV) embarked from RNAS Hatston on February 21st 1943. BITER began working up with her new squadron in preparation for anti submarine operations beginning in late April.

 

A Fulmar makes an approach to BITER's flight deck during the ships tour as Deck Landing Training carrier. Photo: from the collection of the late John Crowther.

 

From April 21st HMS BITER was allocated to Western Approaches Command and operated in company with the 5th Escort Group covering Atlantic convoys. Form the 22nd BITER with her escort (Destroyers Pathfinder, Opportune, and Obdurate) supported convoy ONS4 which had sailed from Liverpool on the 13th, bound for Halifax, where it arrived on May 5th without loss. On the 25th U-404 fired four torpedoes at HMS BITER, all detonated prematurely and BITER escaped without damage. Three days after joining the convoy one of BITER's Swordfish attacked U-203 south of Cape Farewell, Greenland, a combination of attacks by this aircraft and depth charges from HMS Pathfinder sank her. BITER left the convoy after twelve days when relieved by the US escort group and called into Argentia in Newfoundland to refuel and await the return convoy which she was to escort homewards. The opportunity was taken to hold a ship's concert while at Argentia, but it this was not as morale building as it was hoped - the US nurses from a nearby hospital were forbidden to attend as 'enlisted men were to be present'.

 

A Swordfish launches - these biplanes used the maximum available take off run to get off the deck.  Photo: from the collection of the late John Crowther.

 

On May 5th BITER with her escort supported convoys SC 129 and HX237 which left Halifax bound for Liverpool on May 2nd & 3rd. May 12th saw the escort group in action again. U-89 was sunk in the Northern Atlantic by aircraft form 811 squadron together the destroyer HMS Broadway and the frigate HMS Lagan. HX237 arrived in Liverpool on the 17th with the loss of three stragglers to U-Boats. SC 129 arrived on the 21st losing two ships, both to U-402. Breaking off from SC 129 on reaching the western approaches BITER disembarked 811 to RNAS Machrihanish on May 18th.

 

BITER re-embarked her aircraft on June 2nd BITER covered another Halifax bound convoy and a return run (most likely to cover the 75 ship convoy ON 187 which sailed from Liverpool on June 1st and arriving at Hew York on June 15th & HX244/SC134 departing New York 12/16th arriving at Liverpool 30th June and 1st July).

 

BITER disembarked 811 to RNAMY Belfast on July 9th before re-embarking them again on the 19th for one weeks flying before they went ashore to RNAS Machrihanish on the 26th. The squadron made its own way back to Belfast in early September where BITER re-embarked them on the 24th.

 

BITER was to make at least three round trips escorting Atlantic convoys before Christmas 1943, however details of all these operations are not available.

 

BITER sailed from the Clyde with the 7th Support Group on October 19th to provide support for convoy ON207. This convoy sailed fro Liverpool on the 19th, arriving at New York on November 4th. BITER again putt into Argentia to refuel once the local escort took over responsibility for the convoy. She left Argentia on November 7th support convoys HX265 which sailed from New York on the 13th and arrived at Liverpool on the 27th, and SC146 which departed Halifax on November 6th and reaching Liverpool on the 22nd. Both convoys sailed arrived unscathed; however BITER was almost sunk by one of her own torpedoes.

 

While at Argentia BITER had been issued a new American acoustic torpedo US code name 'FIDO' (this device appears to have been called 'Oscar' by the Admiralty) this device would home in on nearby shipping at 15 knots when dropped from an aircraft.

 

On the November 16th a Swordfish ditched close to the convoy having experienced total engine failure. The aircraft was still carrying its homing torpedo; the weapon was torn off and began hunting for a target. The torpedo locked onto a tanker and exploded against her hull. Damage was severe enough to require the tanker to return with an escort to Newfoundland. The next day Oscar/Fido struck again. This time a swordfish was attempting a landing in a heavy swell carrying its unexpended torpedo. As the aircraft crossed the round down the stern pitched up and the torpedo was torn from its cradle, the weapon fell into the sea. The close proximity of BITER's propeller was too strong an acoustic target fpr Oscar/Fido to ignore and the warhead exploded causing damage to the ship's rudder. The full extent of the damage was not to become clear until much later though. This incident was described in some circles as "BITER bitten by Fido".

 

BITER in dry dock at Rosyth in December 1943 after receiving rudder damage from a 'friendly' torpedo. Photo: from the collection of the late John Crowther.

 

On reaching the western approaches 811 squadron was flown ashore to RNAS Donibristle on November 25th as BITER proceeded to the Firth of Clyde to make her way up through the anchored ships to her allotted anchorage at Tail o' the Bank. These manoeuvres were all carried out at low speed, and it was only when approaching the troop ship Queen Elizabeth that the rudder problem became apparent; the captain ordered 'Starboard 20' - and nothing happened! BITER continued her forward course straight towards the huge Liner. It was only through reversing he engines and being nudged by her attendant tugs that a collision was avoided. Upon anchoring the ship's diver was sent down to inspect the damage, reporting that nearly two thirds of the rudder were missing! Handling at higher speeds had not shown this deficiency, the problem only manifesting itself at low speed.

 

Repairs were to be carried out in Rosyth Naval Dockyard on the Firth of Forth, BITER setting out from the Clyde the next day to battle her way through heavy seas to enter dry dock for repairs that were to take a month to complete.

 

BITER returned to active duty in the New Year, re-embarking 811 squadron from RNAS Inskip on the January 12th 1944. After another work up period she began operations west of Finisterre from February 12th in support of convoys in company with HMS TRACKER and the 7th and 9th Escort Groups. The first convoys supported were Halifax bound ONS 29 which was soon handed on to her ocean escort, and OS68/KMS42 bound for Freetown/Gibraltar, all departed Liverpool February 12th Wildcats of 811 squadron shot down a Junkers 290 long-range reconnaissance aircraft on the 16th, this had carried out an unsuccessful glider bomb attack on the escort force. Later that day BITER's air controllers vectored an interception by an RAF Coastal Command Beaufighter of 235 Squadron, successfully shooting down a second Junkers 290. On February 20th the wind dropped, the convoy was becalmed in the Bay of Biscay - normally famous for its atrocious weather conditions. The two convoys separated on February 23rd, KMS42 reaching Gibraltar on the 25th.

 

BITER operating with TRACKER on UK - Gibraltar convoy protection, February 1944. Note the towed array behind the ship, possibly a decoy device. Photo: from the collection of the late John Crowther

 

The escort group was to spend a week at Gibraltar, and during this time a detachment of 2 Swordfish from 811 squadron operated from RN Air Section North Front between February 26th and March 2nd.

 

BITER, TRACKER and escort sailed on March 2nd supporting the 41 ships of the combined West Africa/Gibraltar - UK convoy SL150,/MKS41. Flying was again hampered by a lack of wind; however this was an asset on the evening of March 5th when TRACKER's Doctors Surgeon Lt. Cdr George Foss, and Surgeon Lt King RNVR, were rowed over to HMS BITER to assist with a delicate surgical operation. SL150,/MKS41 was a slow moving convoy with little incident until an explosion occurred at 0154 hours on March 10th to the west of the Bay of Biscay; U-575 had attacked the convoy and sank the Flower Class Corvette HMS Asphodel. The combined convoy reached Liverpool on March 13th.

 

BITER next supported convoys OS73/ KMS47 which depart Liverpool on April 13th. The following day the German submarine U-448 made an unsuccessful attempt to attack BITER, and was sunk by depth charges from the Canadian frigate HMCS Swansea and the sloop HMS Pelican. The convoys separated on April 16th, KMS47 arrived on Gibraltar the following day.

 

BITER continued to support Gibraltar convoys until she was taken into a shipyard at Greenock for conversion to a ferry carrier in early August 1944 and was officially transferred to the Merchant Navy as a transport carrier on August 21st 1944. Before she undertake this new role the ship was seriously damaged by fire while still in port at Greenock on the 24th; no repair facilities were available to make good her damage so the ship was laid up in reserve.

 

'Dixmude'


BAVG 3 was returned to US Navy custody "as lying" on the Clyde, April 9th 1945. After extensive refitting by the US Navy BAVG 3 was transferred to the French Navy on loan where she was renamed Dixmude. She saw limited service as a combat carrier, when her Dauntless aircraft supported French land forces in Indo-China in 1946, before she employed as a transport from 1947. BAVG - 3 was stricken from the US Naval Vessels Register January 24th 1951, and was disarmed during a 1951-1953 refit. From 1956 Dixmude was used as an accommodation ship and as a base for Corps Amphibie between 1960-30 1965. Dixmude was returned to US Navy on June 10th 1966 for disposal, and was subsequently sunk as a target.

 

 


Content revised: July 2008

Sources used in compiling this account:

Barnett, C. (2001) 'Engage the enemy more closely' London, Penguin Books

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

Crosley, R. (1986) 'They gave me a Seafire' Shrewsbury, Airlife publishing

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

Hobbs, D. (2007) 'Moving bases: Royal Navy Maintenance Carriers and MONABs' Liskeard, Maritime Books

Smith,P.C., (12001) 'Task Force 57: The British Pacific Fleet, 1944 - 45' Bristol, Crecy Books

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)

Weaver, D. (2004) 'The History of HMS Queen - A World War II Lend Lease Escort Aircraft Carrier' Hong Kong, D.G. Weaver.

Winton, J. (1969) 'The forgotten Fleet', London, Michael Joseph Ltd.

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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