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)

 

HMS BITER started out as the 9,100 ton Maritime Commission C3 type passenger-cargo vessel built by the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company, Chester, Pennsylvania. Maritime Commission hull number 60, Sun number 187 she was ordered as the S.S. RIO PARANA for the US operator Moore-McCormack Lines Her keel was laid down on December 28th 1939, she was launched by her sponsor, Miss Kay Calder Lee, on December 18th 1940. The RIO PARANA was purchased by the US Navy on May 20th 1941 for conversion into a modified 'LONG ISLAND' class Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier for transfer to the British upon completion, the conversion work was to be carried out by Atlantic Basin Iron Works, Brooklyn, New York.
 

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. BITER, unlike her sister ships Archer and Avenger, had a small island superstructure fitted.
She was completed on May 1st 1942 and turned over to the Maritime Commission for further transfer, under the Lend-Lease agreement, to the United Kingdom and was reclassified as BAVG-3 for record purposes [BAVG designates her as British Auxiliary Aircraft Carrier]. BAVG- was turned over to UK custody on May 6, 1942 at Brooklyn Naval Yard by Rear Admiral E. J. Marquand USN, Commandant of the 3rd Naval District; she was accepted on behalf of the Admiralty by Captain Abel-Smith RN at a ceremony on the flight deck. The ship was re-christened HMS BITER by Mrs Potts, wife of Rear Admiral H. Potts RN, British Naval Attaché in Washington and Captain Abel-Smith, as her commanding officer, read the commissioning warrant before the White Ensign was raised.


Sea Trials and work-up

The start of her sea trials was delayed by nearly a week after a fire broke out in the catapult house on the 8th which burned out one catapult motor. She left her berth on May 15th to begin her builder's trials and Admiralty acceptance trials; her engines were unsatisfactory during the trials in Oyster Bay and she returned to the Navy Yard for modifications. Her trials resumed on May 30th when she began gun trials in Hempstead Harbour, her flight deck equipment was tested on June 2nd off Execution Rock her first aircraft, a Swordfish of 836 squadron, landed on board, followed seventeen minutes later by a second. Her engine modifications were successful and she passed her full speed trials on June 5th, after which flying exercises with 836 squadron commenced.

 

No. 836 naval air squadron had formed at RNAS Palisadoes, Jamaica, on March 1st before flying to the US naval air station at Floyd Bennett Field, New York where they arrived on May 13th to join BITER. The squadron was equipped with 6 Swordfish I Torpedo, Bomber & Reconnaissance (TBR) aircraft for anti-submarine duties.


Passage from  New York to UK

BITER left New York on June 12th, sailing at 15:15 in company with HMS RANPURA, and escorted by the USS WOOLSEY and USS HOBSON; they were bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, and on reaching the open sea a Swordfish was flown off on dusk anti-submarine patrol at 18:12. The passage was plagued by heavy fog, visibility reduced to 100 yards for much of the time. The four ships dropped anchor in Halifax Harbour at 18:58 on the 14th to await the other ships of the next fast troop convoy. HMS BITER weighed for the Clyde at 0828 on the 16th sailing with the troop convoy NA.11 in company with HM troopships EMPRESS OF JAPAN (4125 troops), LETITIA (2370 troops, and the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS RANPURA (922 US troops & civilians)) escorted by the destroyers USS EBERLE, USS ERICSSON, and USS ROE.

 

At 12:31 her engines broke down. For an hour the 'Not under control' black balls were closed up at her yard, but by 15:47 she was back in convoy at 13½ knots. The first recorded flying incident occurred on the 17th when a Swordfish [1] armed with a Mk VII depth-charge crashed into the island. It took a long, anxious hour and a quarter to extricate the amatol-filled charge from the wreckage and lower it over the side. The remainder of the crossing was uneventful and BITER arrived at B2 berth, Greenock on the 23rd.
 

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.


Modification to RN Standards on the Clyde and Working-up

The ship next began a programme of modification in a dockyard on the Clyde, she was partly de-stored on the 27th, and the damaged Swordfish W5897 was put ashore by crane to the dockside. The remaining three Swordfish of 836 squadron departed for RNAS Lee-on-Solent. These modifications 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 of her modifications BITER was allocated for operations with the Home Fleet and began a post-modification work-up in late August She was to form part of the support force for the planned allied landings in North Africa (Operation TORCH) and commenced a month of training in September; this included exercises in the new technique of oiling escort vessels at sea from an auxiliary aircraft carrier.

 

She embarked a new squadron, 833 NAS (6 Swordfish I) from RNAS Machrihanish on September 2nd to work-up with the ship; three Fulmars also visited the ship and made some practice landings and take-offs on BITER's lengthened flight deck. One Fulmar, DR676 of 808 Squadron crashed on the flight deck during a DLT session on the 19th, the pilot Sub-Lt R.W. Turral was OK, Sub-Lt E. Brown form 787 squadron, service trials unit successfully made several catapult launches and recoveries in a Martlet fighter to put the ships American accelerator through its paces. He was to return to BITER on September 11th flying a hooked Seafire IB to attempt the first deck landing by this type on an escort carrier. The very long nose of the Seafire meant that the normal approach to landing was not possible; a new technique was devised whereby the aircraft was made to ‘crab in’ sideways, so that he had a view of the deck over the leading edge of the wing, once over the rounddown he corrected the aircraft at the last moment to make a perfect three point landing and caught an arrester wire [2].


Operations with the Home Fleet

On completion of the work up period 833 disembarked to RNAS Stretton on September 30th and BITER sailed for Scapa Flow escorted by FARNDALE and QUALITY. During this period only one squadron incident was recorded, Swordfish DK673 ('C') crashed on landing during DLT on the 14th when Lt LS Campbell failed to lower his arrester hook.

 

On arrival at Scapa Flow on October 1st, she joined the Home Fleet and embarked the 15 Sea Hurricanes of 800 squadron from RNAS Hatston October 9th. The next day she was joined by her sister ship AVENGER. BITER spent the next week exercising with her new squadron. Two of the Sea Hurricanes visiting the ship on the 7th had flying accidents; Z7089 flown by Sub-Lt T.H. Hoare RNZNVR hit rounddown and ended up in the barrier and AF963 flown by Sub-Lt M.I. Banister RNVR was waved off to go round again too late, aircraft went over end of flight deck and ditched, the pilot was OK. Two more were damaged on the 13th; JS261 hit the rownddown causing the tail oleo to collapse, the pilot Lt. Cdr J.M. Bruen was OK; JS270 flown by Sub-Lt D. Yate RNZNVR bounced over all the arrester wires and was caught by the barrier.

 

On the 16th AVENGER, BITER and VICTORIOUS (Flag of Rear Admiral, Aircraft Carriers ), escorted by the destroyers MILNE (Captain (D) Third Destroyer Flotilla) with METEOR, ORIBI, OFFA, FORESTER, and LEDBURY, sailed from Scapa at noon, for passage to the Clyde, arriving at Greenock at 17:00 the following day. The next nine days were spent in the Clyde area for combined operations exercises and working up squadrons; an A/S element was added to BITER on the 23rd when 833 squadron 'A' Flight flew out to join BITER with 3 Swordfish (‘B’ flight embarked in AVENGER).


Operation TORCH: November 1942

HMS BITER left the Clyde with convoy KMF1 for Algiers departing the Clyde at 21:00 on 26th October. This convoy, and its slower contingent KMS 1 - the slow convoy for Oran which had sailed from the Clyde on the 22nd October with HMS AVENGER, comprised the invasion force elements for operation TORCH, the Allied landings in North Africa. KMF1 comprised of 40 merchants and 36 escorts.

 

A/S patrols were conducted on route to Gibraltar; at 1700 on October 30th a Swordfish sighted a U-Boat on the surface 25 miles out from the convoy but it dived before the aircraft could attack. On November 3rd all three of BITER’s Swordfish were put out of action; DK673 flown by Sub-Lt I.P. Johns made a heavy landing in bad weather and was written off, the airframe was ditched overboard: the same pilot flying in DK748 ('A') suffered a collapsed starboard undercarriage, again landing on a pitching deck: DK671 had a barrier crash when attempting a deck landing on a pitching deck, bounced over all three wires, the pilot Lt R.J.H Stephens was OK. On arrival at Gibraltar only one Swordfish had been made airworthy.

 

Both ’A’ and ‘B’ flights of 833 squadron were put ashore at Gibraltar on the 7th to conduct A/S sweeps. Later that day the convoys, now in the Mediterranean began to form up into their assault groups. There were three Task Forces involved in Operation TORCH; Western Task Force, aimed at Casablanca, Centre Task Force, aimed at Oran and Eastern Task Force aimed at Algiers BITER was allocated for duty with Central Naval Task Force to provide cover for landings at Oran on November 8th. The carrier force comprised of BITER (800 12 x Sea Hurricanes), DASHER (804 12 x Sea Hurricanes) and FURIOUS (801 & 807 12 x Seafire each, 822 9 x Albacore.)

 

Seafires from FURIOUS strafed the Vichy French airfield at Tafraoui, while eight of her Albacores, escorted by Six Hurricanes from DASHER as top cover, and six from BITER as close escort, attacked the field at La Senia. They were attacked by Dw520s over La Senia as they began their attack dive, but they destroyed 46 aircraft on the ground despite the leader, going down in flames in his first dive. Three Albacores failed to return, but two of the crews were safe; two others returned with damage from French fighters.

 

BITER launched a flight of 6 Sea Hurricanes in the early hours of November 8th to form up with the 8 Albacores heading for the coast; one of the aircraft went unserviceable after take-off and returned to the ship. 800 squadron’s Sub-Lt R.M. Crosley flying in AG334 shot down 2 Dw520 over La Senia airfield in rapid succession, both succumbing to a half second burst of fire; the first pilot bailed out, the second went down with his machine, just north of the airfield. On returning to the ship he was ordered to land on DASHER as BITER had a fouled deck (Sub-Lt R.L. Thompson in JS273, who had also shot down a Dw520 over La Senia had crashed into the barrier).

 

Sub-Lt B Ritchie took down another; in total 5 Dw520s were confirmed destroyed over the airfield and a further 7 were destroyed by strafing on the ground. Sub-Lt Crosley was launched again at 09:30 to join a second flight of five aircraft for 800 to conduct patrols over the beach at Arzeu; after 2 hours of fruitless patrolling they headed back to BITER, all but one were ordered to land on DASHER, the five aircraft were to remain on her in lieu of 804 who had all failed to return from the original mission (Many of the Sea Hurricanes taking part in the operation, from both 800 and 804 got lost on the return leg, many safely landed on a flat Salt lake and were flown off later when fuel was found, some ditched).

 

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 then underwent a period of refit and modification at Harland and Wolff's shipyard in Belfast.


Allocated to Western Approaches Command: Operations with 5th Escort Group

On leaving Belfast in early 1943, BITER was to spend a short spell as a Deck Landing Training carrier in the Firth of Clyde before taking passage to Rosyth (reason unknown). She sailed with the Destroyer VIVACIOUS from Rosyth at 18:00 on February 19th to return to Greenock, arriving there at 16:00 on the 21st. On arrival at Greenock she embarked her latest squadron, No. 811 NAS which operated 6 Swordfish IIs & 3 Wildcat IVs. [It is assumed they had flown overland from RNAS Hatston to RNAS Machrihanish as the ship did not go to Scapa].

 

BITER now began working up with her new squadron in preparation for anti-submarine operations in the North Atlantic. BITER left the Clyde in company with the Destroyers PATHFINDER, OPPORTUNE, and OBDURATE for Iceland on April 13th; the group arrived at Hvalfjord on the 17th and from April 21st they were allocated to Western Approaches Command as the 5th Escort Group (5 E.G.), Captain Abel-Smith, BITER, as Senior Officer.

 

5 E.G.  sailed at 10:00 on the 21st to rendezvous with the west bound Atlantic convoy ONS.4. Captain Abel-Smith was given permission to operate outside of the convoy itself; normally the carrier would be at the rear of one of the columns of ships and needed to break formation to turn into wind before launching aircraft. Operating as an independent group BITER and her escorts operated between 35 - 56 miles out on a changing relative bearing, which allowed for rapid aircraft launches, allowed more flying in bad weather, and at night, and with two escort groups it became possible to acquire cross H/F D/F bearings to aid aircraft investigating contacts. BITER was an anti-submarine carrier, equipped with ASDIC herself, her own depth charge launchers and her A/S aircraft and her captain was keen to show how see could operate as a U-Boat hunter/killer.

 

Convoy ONS.4 this convoy had sailed from Liverpool on April 13th, bound for Halifax and escorted by Escort Group B2, BITER and 5 E.G. made contact with the convoy on April 23rd south-east of Cape Farewell, Greenland. Five Swordfish sorties were made on the afternoon of April 23 into a Force 7 wind over a moderate swell and rough sea, but heavy snow showers cut the flying programme short. One of the Swordfish battling through the snow sighted a surfaced U-boat, but all trace of it had vanished when the location was reached. Later that afternoon U-191 was detected in position 56°45’N, 34°25’W and attacked with depth charges and sunk by HMS HESPERUS (SO B2); a swordfish was launched to intercept but arrived too late to participate in the attack. Only nine sorties were launched the next day, all at dusk, mainly on searches round the convoy.

 

On the 25th the convoy had entered the danger zone, an undetected submarine, U-404, fired a spread of four torpedoes at BITER, all detonated prematurely and BITER escaped without damage. At 16:25 Swordfish HS442 ('L') sighted and attacked U-203 which was on the surface approximately 8 miles from the carrier. Two depth charges were dropped and the submarine crash dived, no sign of damage was seen and two smoke floats were dropped to mark the location at 55°05'N 4f25'W. PATHFINDER from BITER's screen was detached to follow up the attack and twenty minutes later she was guided to the location by the circling Swordfish, and began searching with her ASDIC. BITER too was actively searching with her ASDIC and once a contact was made launched a second at 16:51. BITER dropped two of her own depth charges over a strong contact, one failed to explode and nothing was seen to suggest any damage had been done to the U-Boat. PATHFINDER then got her first ping and a persistent hunt was on; PATHFINDER made repeated depth charge attacks. At 18:40, after two hours and five separate attacks, U-203 bobbed violently above the surface, and her crew began to abandon ship. PATHFINDER returned to BITER's group with forty-two survivors. At 21:15 OPPORTUNE got an ASDIC contact, altered course to pass over the contact and dropped two depth-charges. One of these failed to explode and the contact was lost.

 

The weather during this period had allowed flight operations but night flying was possible on only 2 nights. All sorties appear to be made by Swordfish; flying operations ceased after the dawn patrol on the 26th when fog closed in. BITER, with OPPORTUNE and OBDURATE left the convoy after being relieved by the US escort group and arrived at Argentia in Newfoundland on April 29th to refuel and await the next east bound convoy. 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'.

 

Convoy HX237 left New York on May 1st, a second group of vessels sailed from Halifax on the 3rd, on May 5th BITER and 5 E.G. sailed from Argentia to support the convoy. Fog descended on the escort group once clear of the coast and stayed with them until the morning of the 7th, the day the convoy and ocean escorts EG C2 were due to rendezvous. Two Swordfish were launched at 07:30 to locate the convoy and patrolled round it at a distance of twelve miles. At this time 10 of the 52 ships had become lost in fog. BITER now withdrew and began operating independently; at dusk a patrol of two Martlets was launched ; this was their first outing and they were tasked with sweeping ahead and astern of the convoy. At some point during the course of the patrol they lost contact with the convoy, all attempts to locate BITER also failed due to an RDF failure on the ship. Sub-Lt ES Erikson RNZNVR in Martlet FN212, and Sub-Lt KG Talbot in FN275, by now low on fuel and about ninety miles north-west of the convoy sighted a straggler escorted by the ASW trawler KIRKELLA which were returning to the convoy. Both pilots successfully ditched nearby and were safely recovered by KIRKELLA.

 

Visibility was poor on the 8th. Biter flew off two Swordfish in the morning, one to circle the convoy, the other to patrol twenty miles ahead. A third aircraft went off in the afternoon, but could not find the convoy, and returned to Biter. On the 9th, with visibility now down to only two miles, destroyers from the 5th Escort Group closed the convoy, to top up from the escort oiler, but shortly after they had re-joined 5 E.G. received a signal from C-in-C, Western Approaches, ordering them to join the convoy and remain with it. BITER took up station in Position 72, with a lane all to herself which was intended to facilitate flying.

 

A number of U- Boats were now known to be in the vicinity of the convoy and the weather was bad again on the 10th, and no flying was possible until late afternoon when BITER pulled out of the convoy and flew off a single Swordfish, HS338 ('M'), to patrol at visual distance round the ships. One of the escorts sighted U-403 on the surface at position 41°54'N, 31°19'W and the Swordfish attacked at 16:50 with two depth charges. They came under heavy fire from her deck gun, and the aircraft was hit by 22mm fire; the crew Lt GL Hodgson, Sub-Lt TE Nurse & NA1 DL Morgan disengaged and managed to return safely to the ship. A second Swordfish was launched to relieve the damaged HS338 but this failed to find the convoy and then lost the carrier; running low on fuel the aircraft was eventually forced to ditch near a merchant ship, which rescued its crew, Sub-Lt M Wargent, Sub-Lt DJ Price & an un-named TAG.

 

Visibility was again poor on the 11th, with rainstorms and a high swell. Resulting in a pitching deck which made launching and recovering aircraft very difficult i the evening, another U-Boat was detected and a Swordfish, HS442 ('L'), took off to track it down. The U-boat was still on the surface in position 44°47’N, 27°22’W and when attacked fought back with her guns for five minutes before being forced down. The Swordfish returned to the ship and managed to land on safely.

 

Just after noon on the 12th Swordfish HS436 ('B') sighted a U-89 diving, in position 47°01’N, 25°51’W, six miles on the convoy's beam, and at once attacked dropping two depth charges at 12:30 but with no visible result. The U-Boat was picked up by the destroyer BROADWAY and the frigate LAGAN and sunk. A second contact was attacked at 18:30 but the submarine, U-230 managed to shoot down the Swordfish that was attacking it, The ('unidentified) aircraft coded ‘A’ crashed into the sea in position 47°44’N, 25°42’W and her death charges exploded killing her crew, Sub-Lt VW Witts, Sub-Lt RJ Lee & Ldg Airman GH Marsden.

 

At dawn on May 13th, the weather had greatly improved, and the first pair of Swordfish took off at 0542 and sighted two U-boats. They were joined by a Coastal Command Sunderland, which had joined the convoy, this dropped a stick of depth-charges on the last known location but these did no damage. One U-Boat, U-456 was still in the area and suffered damage from a new weapon, Mk XXIV mine dropped from an RAF Liberator which had detonated and forced her to the surface. HMS OPPORTUNE was detached to make an attack and the boat submerged, it was lost with all hands. The relief pair of Swordfish from BITER sighted another U-boat at 09:49 in position 46°38’N, 28°06’W and Swordfish HS442 ('L'), dive bombed her as she submerged but with no apparent result. Her companion Swordfish HS436 ('B'), made a repeat attack at the same location at 10:44, also with no visible result.

 

It was noticed that U-boats were no longer staying to fight it out on the surface when attacked. HX237 was now under the protection of Coastal Command aircraft and BITER and 5 E.G. were ordered to shift 200 miles to the south, to support another eastbound convoy. HX237 arrived in Liverpool on the 17th with the loss of three stragglers to U-Boats.

 

CONVOY SC.129 departed from Halifax on May 2nd and was being threatened by a wolf pack. BITER and her escorts detached at 10:30, on the 13th; at 20:00 OPPORTUNE got a ping on her asdic and went to investigate while BITER and her two escorts took avoiding action. Nothing was found and OPPORTUNE re-joined in the early hours the 14th. The day dawned fine and clear, but with practically no wind, limited Swordfish to a armament load of two 40lb bombs on take-off.

 

Shortly before joining SC.129 that afternoon Swordfish HS442 ('L') investigating a HF/DF contact sighted a surfaced U-boat. They dive-bombed the submarine which opened fire, and scored a near-miss with their two bombs but were hit by enemy gunfire and the observer Sub-Lt GV McMorran was wounded; .the pilot Lt JHB Bedells & Ldg Airman SH Johnston were OK and they returned to the ship just as their relief found the same target, which they were ordered to shadow. When the U-boat dived they dropped four bombs around her. At 1345 BITER joined the convoy and began flying anti-submarine patrols. Only the normal dawn and dusk patrols were flown on May 15, any U-boats sighted dived immediately they saw the aircraft. On May 16 the convoy was nearing the United Kingdom, and the 5 E.G. was ordered to the Clyde. SC.129 reached port on the 21st without loss.


Operations with 1st Escort Group

BITER disembarked 811 to RNAS Machrihanish on May 18th where they were to regroup and receive replacement aircraft. The ship was next ordered to become part of Escort Group 1 (1 E.G.) supported by PELICAN, WEAR, JED, and SPEY; her squadron re-embarked on June 2nd for a brief exercise period before sailing on the 4th. 1 E.G. sailed from the Clyde on the evening of June 4th to rendezvous with convoy HX.242.

 

Convoy HX.242 departed from New York on May 31st bound for Liverpool 1 E.G. covered this convoy from position 53°04’N,40°43’W on June 9th until being detached at position 56°31’N 26°51’W to cover ONS.10 on the 12th. Normal flying patrols were carried out during this period, but there was one crash on deck on the 8th when the tail of Swordfish HS437 struck the rounddown landing on and broke the aircraft’s back. The crew, Sub-Lt M Wargent, Sub-Lt DJ Price & TAG AK Crinkley were all OK.

 

Convoy ONS.10 departed from Liverpool on 8 June 1943 with Escort Group B7 bound for Halifax. There were no aircraft attacks made during this crossing but one U-Boat, U-334, was destroyed by 1 E.G. escorts on the 14th, about 360 miles SSW. of Iceland in position 58°36’N, 28°12’W ; at 11:35 PELICAN, JED and WEAR, were attacking a submarine which JED had brought to the surface after a run over a contact with Minol depth charges. At 1414 PELICAN reported the submarine sunk, and wreckage was seen and samples taken. Later that day, at 22:33, BITER, reported that a Liberator aircraft had sighted and attacked another shadowing submarine in 57°22’ N. 30°20’W. BITER and 1 E.G. detached form the convoy on the 18th and proceeded to Argentia, arriving there at 09:25 on June 21st. The return voyage to the UK was to be made, in part, covering convoy SC.135.

 

Convoy SC.135 departed Halifax on June 27th escorted by Ocean Escort Group B7, BITER and 1 E.G. rendezvoused with the convoy on July 1st and provided air cover until the 4th. BITER was then ordered to proceed to Belfast, her escorts to Londonderry, to disembark her squadron to RNAS Belfast. There were three flying incidents recorded on this crossing, all Swordfish; on July 1st Sub-Lt HMK Howson flying in HS445 ('A') struck the DLCOs screen with a wing landing on, on the 7th HS338 ('M') flown by Lt. Cdr EB Morgan RANVR landed too fast, ballooned over barrier and crashed into one of the Martlets in the aircraft park and Lt AW Rawlings made a heavy landing after stalling HS436 ('B') high above the deck


Refit: July - September 1943

The aircraft of 811 squadron flew ashore to RNAS Belfast on July 9th, the personnel and stores were offloaded to the aircraft loading jetty at the air station once the ship docked. On completion of unloading she proceeded to the Clyde. [It is suggested by Admiralty War Diary entries that BITER was to be converted for Arctic operations but this was cancelled because she was a diesel powered carrier and deemed not suitable for the purpose]. The squadron re-embarked again on the 19th for one week’s flying training before they went ashore to RNAS Machrihanish on July 26th.

 

BITER was in the hands of a Clyde dock yard during August and most of September for a refit; on completion she began a post refit work-up and flying training program. A large number of the ship’s company had been drafted during the refit and reliefs joined; half of her 16 executive officers had also been replaced. 811 squadron had been re-equipped with a complement of 6 Swordfish and 6 Wildcats and they too required time to familiarise themselves with the ship.

 

Meanwhile 811 squadron had returned to RNAS Belfast  on September 6th and they re-embarked on September 24th to begin the work-up period. BITER arrived at Belfast on October 12th to have a repaired generator fitted before returning to active service, she was back at Greenock on the 19th.


Operations with 7th Escort Group

BITER and 7 E.G. sailed on October 19th to cover the east-bound convoy ON.207 during part of its passage to New York.

 

Convoy ON.207 had departed from Liverpool on October 18th, escorted by Escort Group C1, BITER and 7 E.G. joined on the 20th and provided support until the 27th when they were ordered to detach and proceed to Newfoundland. BITER and her escorts arrived at Argentia at 18:30 on the 28th. The return crossing was to support two convoys SC.146 and HX265 in November.

 

Convoy SC.146 departed Halifax on November 6th bound for Liverpool via Halifax; the convoy was to be supported by 31 escorts, both 5 E.G. and 7 E.G. as distant cover with Escort Group B3 as ocean escort. BITER left Argentia on November 7th to rendezvous with SC.146 on the 9th. On November 10th Swordfish LS230 ('G') suffered engine failure at 1, feet and ditched close to the convoy. The aircraft was still carrying a homing torpedo, and the weapon was torn off and began hunting for a target. The torpedo locked onto the Norwegian tanker the M/S GYLFE and exploded against her hull. Damage was severe enough to require the tanker to return with an escort to St,. John’s, Newfoundland [3].  7 E.G. remained with the convoy as distant cover until detaching on the 13th to switch cover to convoy HX.265.

 

Convoy HX265 departed New York on November 6th bound for Liverpool via Halifax; the convoy was to be supported by 35 escorts, both 5 E.G. and 7 E.G. as distant cover with Escort Group C2 as ocean escort. 7 E.G. rendezvoused with the convoy on November 14th and began providing A/s patrols. On November 16th Oscar/Fido struck again. This time Lt. Cdr EB Morgan RANVR in swordfish LS246 ('C') was attempting a landing in a heavy swell carrying its unexpended torpedo. As the aircraft crossed the round down the stern pitched up, the aircraft had insufficient speed and stalled; it crashed into the sea off the starboard quarter and the torpedo was torn from its cradle.

 

The close proximity of BITER's propeller was too strong an acoustic target for Oscar/Fido to ignore and it acquired the ship; the warhead exploded causing damage to the ship's rudder. The explosion had damaged the rudder to the extent that the steering was slightly affected but BITER was able to proceed unaided. 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 was detached with the fast section of the convoy at dusk on the 17th escorted by ICARUS, MORDEN and CHILLIWACK making 12½ knots arriving at Greenock at 19:23 on the 19th.


Rudder damage

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 was 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 set 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. 811 squadron was flown ashore to RNAS Donibristle on November 25th as BITER proceeded to the Firth of Forth. Upon entering dry-dock at Rosyth the minor hull damage below the waterline at the stern became apparent. The rudder suffered the most damage part of it had been blown off and it was skewed.

 

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.


Operations with Escort Group A2

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, working with a second escort carrier HMS TRACKER, they were to operate as Air Group A.2; this was new Admiralty policy, two carriers operating together, one anti-submarine and one a fighter carrier in support of Ocean Escort Groups. On the last day of her work up Sub-Lt JS Barnes flying in Swordfish NF137 made a very heavy landing and the aircraft broke its back.
 

Convoy ONS.29 and OS.68/KMS.42, these three convoys departed from Liverpool On February 12th, ONS.29 for Halifax and OS.68/KMS.42 for Freetown/Gibraltar. BITER and TRACKER initially supported escort group B4 covering ONS.29 while on passage to their rendezvous with the escort groups for the combined Freetown/Gibraltar convoy.

At 09:45 on the morning of February 16th Lt ES Erikson RNZNVR in FN168 ('Q'), and Lt WC Dimes RNZNVR in FN252 ('R') were launched to intercept an enemy aircraft 13 miles out from the convoy; the aircraft was a Ju 290, a large, four-engine long-range maritime patrol aircraft armed with glider bombs for anti-shipping attacks. The enemy crossed the rear of the convoy at approximately 7 Niles astern and carried out an unsuccessful glider bomb attack on the escort force. The Wildcats engaged at 10:05 setting fire to one of its starboard engines, it was observed to crash into the sea shortly after in position 53°31'N 14°46'W. Later that day at 15:34 BITER detected a second Ju 290 on radar and he ship’s air controllers vectored an interception by an RAF Coastal Command Beaufighter of 235 Squadron, successfully shooting it down at 15:50.

 

On February 19th Lt ES Erikson RNZNVR, again flying in FN168 missed all the wires landing on, hit a gun shield and continued into the barrier ending up on its nose. The wind dropped the next day, the convoy was becalmed in the Bay of Biscay - normally famous for its atrocious weather conditions; no flying was almost possible, TRACKERs Avengers were grounded but Wildcats could still be catapulted despite the lack of wind over the deck. One Avenger did attempt a take-off but went over the side; her crew were smartly picked up by HMS CLOVER. Eventually the weather improved and the Avengers resumed their sweeps, up to 200 miles deep, finding no contacts. The two convoys separated on February 23rd, OS.68 with 29 vessels to continue on to Freetown, the other, KMS42G with 27 ships arrived at Gibraltar on the 25th. 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 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

 

Convoy SL150/MKS41 formed at sea when SL.150 (Freetown to UK) joined with MKS.41 (Gibraltar to UK) j on March 3rd. BITER, TRACKER, and escorts sailed on the 2nd to be at the rendezvous point. Flying was again hampered by a lack of wind; this was an asset on the evening of March 5th however, when TRACKERs Doctors, Surg Lt. Cdr George Foss, and Surg. Lt King RNVR, went over to BITER by sea boat 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. Four of TRACKERs Avengers searched for the attacker but no trace was found. BITER and TRACKER detached from the convoy on March 9th and proceeded to the Clyde  in company with her close escorts HM Ships WHITEHALL and WRESTLER, arriving on March 12th,. The combined convoy reached Liverpool on March 13th.

 

Convoy OS73/ KMS47, another Freetown/Gibraltar convoy departed Liverpool on April 13th. BITER was the only carrier in the escort as TRACKER had been re-tasked with covering Arctic convoy JW.58 [4The following day, north-east of the Azores, 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, KMS47G arrived at Gibraltar the following day. It is not clear if BITER put into Gibraltar or detached from the convoy to continue anti-submarine sweeps in the Western Approaches.

 

811 squadron lost an Observer on June 20th when Swordfish LS433 ('B') made a forced landing in the sea after suffering an engine failure, Sub-Lt DWG Jones RNVR drowned after his dinghy was deflated when hand distress signal burnt the material; the pilot Sub-Lt D Brown RNVR & PO RWQ Slater were picked up by the Destroyer BULLDOG.

 

The ship was back in UK water in early June, disembarking 811 squadron to RAF Limavady, Northern Ireland on the 10th. It is not known what activities the ship undertook during June, she is next recorded as operating with aircraft of 768 DLT squadron from RNAS Machrihanish. During a week of training which began on July 3rd 1944 there were two deck crashes; Wildcat AJ148 flown by Sub-Lt I Duerdin RNVR crashed into the port walkway on the 6th and Seafire NM915 flown by Lt WN SalIcs RNVR made a barrier crash on the 10th. Seafire NM915 was lost four days later when it stalled and fell into the sea, the pilot, Sub-Lt JA Marriott RNVR was OK (it is not clear if this happened aboard BITER as the DLT session ended on the 10th).

 

HMS BITER was to make one further round trip to Gibraltar covering convoys during July, her squadron re-embarked on July 14th when the ship sailed to resume anti-submarine sweeps in the Western Approaches.

 

OS.84/KMS.58 combined Freetown/Gibraltar convoy departed from Liverpool on July 21st 1944; BITER provided air cover until July 31st when it switched to cover the next north bound combined convoy. There were several accidents during the passage of OS.84/KMS.58, Swordfish NR892 ditched 10 miles ahead of the convoy on July 26th after a fuel leak developed, the crew, Sub-Lt D Brown & Sub-Lt WE Carr were rescued by HETMSDALE Also on the 26th Lt GM Appleton made a heavy landing in Swordfish NR898 while the ship was pitching in a heavy swell. On the 27th Sub-Lt AD Arcus RNZNVR put three Swordfish out of action when he landed on to fast during a night landing in NR918 ('K'), the aircraft bounced over the crash barrier and damaged NR860 & NR889 in the aircraft park.

 

Convoys SL.165 & MKS.56 rendezvoused on July 30th and BITER joined on the 31st. On August 1st Swordfish NR935 ('B`) flown by Sub-Lt M Wargent crashed on deck when its undercarriage collapsed making a heavy landing. BITER detached from the convoy on August 6th 1944.

 

It is unclear when BITER was released form trade protection duties, Swordfish aircraft from 811 squadron are recorded as operating from the ship up to August 18th when NR873 ('F') flown by Sub-Lt CF Gough suffered a broken tail oleo during a night deck landing.


Decommissioned and transferred to Merchant Navy

By this time it had been decided that BITER was no longer an effective combat vessel ; her early model catapult limited her use of American aircraft to the Wildcat fighter and her Diesel engines were prone to breakdowns. The decision was taken to transfer her, and the only other Diesel escort carrier ARCHER BAVG-1, to the Merchant Navy for use by the Ministry of War Transport as dedicated aircraft transports.

 

It is unclear when BITER was released form trade protection duties, Swordfish aircraft from 811 squadron are recorded as operating from the ship up to August 18th when NR873 ('F') flown by Sub-Lt CF Gough suffered a broken tail oleo during a night deck landing.

 

On arrival at Greenock work began to de-store her before HMS BITER was paid-off officially transferred to the Merchant Navy on August 21st 1944 [5]. BITER was taken into a shipyard at Greenock for conversion to a ferry carrier but before work commenced 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 extensive damage so the ship was laid up in reserve.


Disposal: return to US custody

BAVG-3 was returned to US Navy custody "as lying" on the Clyde, on April 9th 1945. After extensive refitting by the US Navy BAVG-3 was transferred to the French Navy on loan where she was renamed the F.S. 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.

 


 

Notes:

[1] There are possible aircraft for this incident, probably Swordfish ‘B’ which returned from A/S patrol due to fog, hit the island and was wrecked, the crew, Sub-Lt RE Barrett, Sub-Lt JH Palmer & Ldg Airman Woodhams were unhurt. Swordfish W5897 ('D') was also unserviceable and needed to be disembarked to the jetty by crane on the 27th, however no incident to warrant this is recorded.

[2] This momentous event was nearly a disaster; once the aircraft had come to a stop Sub-Lieutenant Brown realised something was seriously wrong – the deck was deserted. He had been so intent on getting his approach right he had missed the fact that he ship was not at flying stations, the ‘G’ flag (Go away) was flying from the yard and everyone was at lunch. His landing had been a fluke; he snagged a wire even though they were flat on deck, not raised ready to trap an aircraft. A second attempt, when the ship was ready ended in a crash on deck, the arrestor hook, which had been damaged during the first landing but not discovered, failed after catching a wire and broke, the aircrafts starboard wing collided with the Island structure before coming to a stop.

[3]While at Argentia BITER had been issued a new American acoustic torpedo US code name 'FIDO' (this 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.

[4] BITER was originally considered for accompanying TRACKER on the Arctic convoy but her Diesel engines were considered to be too unreliable and ACTIVITY sailed in her place.

[5] There is some confusion over dates - 811 Squadron is recorded as flying off to RAF Limavady, Northern Ireland on August 25th 1944.

 


Content revised: 01 August 2016

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.

 

On-line archive Fold3.com various documents including;

Admiralty War Diaries

Norfolk Navy Yard War Diaries

Mew York Navy Yard War Diaries

Miscellaneous documents

 

 

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